Over the summer Claremont Review of Books editor Charles Kesler sat down to read the books and speeches of Barack Obama. Professor Kesler concluded that Obama is a serious and ambitious politician who has set about to engineer a transormative leftward shift in American politics and government. I wrote about Kesler’s 7,000-word essay earlier this week here. Professor Kesler’s “The audacity of Barack Obama” has now been posted in its entirety by RealClearPolitics.
Anyone seriously trying to understand American politics must reckon with what Kesler has elsewhere called “the three waves of liberalism,” beginning with Woodrow Wilson. Kesler characterizes the three waves as political liberalism, economic liberalism, and cultural liberalism. In the version of the lecture in which I first heard Kesler describe the three waves, he associated Franklin Roosevelt with the second wave and LBJ with the third wave. (The published version of the lecture does not discuss LBJ. Rather, in his discussion of the third wave Kesler discusses Bill Clinton. When you get to Kesler’s discussion of the third wave, however, you may want to think about how LBJ initiated it.)
As the history of the Reagan administration tends to show, each wave of liberalism has produced results that are extraordinarily difficult if not impossible to reverse. Now Obama stands poised to generate a fourth wave of liberalism that will do great damage to American prosperity and freedom. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal editorial “A liberal supermajority” skethces out the most obvious elements that would roll up on the shore with the fourth wave of liberalism.
One point made by Kesler in the original version of the lecture is that succeeding liberal presidents deepen and extend the innovations of their forebears, picking up from where they left off. The liberal program has an impetus that is difficult to resist. Here Kesler’s metaphor of the waves has its own power. To borrow from Bob Dylan’s restatement of the creed, “You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone.”
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