My friend Josh Rosenau picks up on that John Derbyshire post, and offers some thoughts about my pessimistic liberalism:
Liberals and (sensible, pre-teabagger) conservatives generally recognize the issues Joel raises. Some people sometimes suffer in unregulated markets, wars hurt some people, and majoritarian influence can have pernicious effects, especially on racial, religious, ethnic, and sexual minorities.Read the whole thing, as they say.
Conservatives who are willing to grant any of those premises, though, essentially throw up their hands. They'll grant that markets aren't always good for everyone, but they'll insist that government intervention would just make it worse. Or sure, Jim Crow laws are an affront to American standards of decency, but government can't just impose integration on the South, we just have to leave it for folks to sort that out on their own. And so forth.
In other words, both sides acknowledge the facts on the ground, an acknowledgment which Joel considers pessimistic. But what makes him (and me!) liberals is that we think something can be done about that. We think that government regulations can make markets fairer. We think government actions can improve the lot of oppressed minorities. We think government action can avert or at least alleviate the suffering caused by war.
And in practice, that optimism (in the capacity of government to do things) has been repeatedly vindicated. The Marshall Plan, the New Deal, civil rights laws and the Great Society all show government doing exactly these things, in ways that strengthen society and even out damaging inefficiencies. We've seen the same benefits from the stimulus bill, and from Affordable Care. There are comparable gains to be seen from enacting climate change policies.
Conservatism is pessimistic in that it rejects the possibility of fixing problems. And if you don't think you can fix a problem, you often try to ignore that it exists (as we see with global warming denial). Liberalism is not pessimistic for acknowledging that problems exist, it would only be pessimistic if it gave up on the idea of fixing those problems.