Letter: The new liberalism

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Andrew Marshall's thoughtful piece "They thought the L-word was dead and buried, but it's back" (6 June) raises the possibility of a new Progressivism arising in the current "flat and empty politics of America". It could be argued that since structural change and governmental interventionism have been eschewed by the Clinton administration, the real politics of the last few years have taken on different forms.

On the one hand, at the local level, there is a renewal of battles over school and welfare rights, assuming greater importance in the face of Washington's transfer of its responsibilities down to the states. California offers a mirror to what may hold for the rest of the US with the recent decision to end bilingual education. But of equal importance has been the continuing strength of the cultural/moral conflict. Value politics rule when political debate becomes de-ideologised, and focused on the consensual centre ground of low taxes, support for "entitlements" and a pro-business environment. This has magnified the cultural differences between liberals and conservatives. One recent study by Alan Woolf suggests that Americans are far more tolerant than even they themselves suspected. He confirms the dislike the majority display towards politicised religion, suggesting it extends even into the southern Bible belt. Indeed, most Americans are more tolerant and non-judgmental about women's rights, civil rights and religious diversity, and adopt a "live and let live" philosophy in which they seek a middle way through life's complexities.

One obvious beneficiary of this more relaxed moral stance has been the President, lauded for his success in sustaining economic growth, while his moral behaviour is viewed as his own affair. The Progressivism of the future may turn out to be more associated with moral and social attitudes rather than an economic policy of redistribution.


Division of Politics

South Bank University

London SE1