Okay, so “bankrupt liberalism” it not exactly a “stop-the-presses!” headline, though the literal bankruptcy of current liberal fiscal policy adds a new layer of truth to the theme.
What prompts a revisit to this perennial theme is David Brooks’ Monday column, which I was late catching, entitled “Where Are the Liberals?” He notes that liberalism ought to be doing better at the moment, but isn’t:
Given the circumstances, this should be a golden age of liberalism. Yet the percentage of Americans who call themselves liberals is either flat or in decline. There are now two conservatives in this country for every liberal. Over the past 40 years, liberalism has been astonishingly incapable at expanding its market share.
Brooks goes on to suggest that a majority of Americans simply lack confidence in Washington, so much so that even liberals like Obama run against Washington—something that FDR or JFK would never have considered. It is thoroughly disingenuous, of course, since liberals are the party of government: the more, the better.
Here we see the essential contradiction of modern liberalism that exposes its essentially ill-liberal character. Liberalism used to be skeptical of authority and concentrated power, but is now authoritarian and all about concentrating more power in government. Brooks correctly observes that a true liberalism
would have a special incentive to root out rent-seeking. Yet this has not been a major priority. There is no Steve Jobs figure in American liberalism insisting that the designers keep government simple, elegant and user-friendly. Sailors scrub their ships. Farmers clear weeds. Democrats have not spent a lot of time scraping barnacles off the state. . .
Make the tax code simple. Make job training simple. Make Medicare simple. Every week choose a rent-seeker to hold up for ridicule and renunciation. Change the Congressional rules. Simplify the legal thickets that undermine responsibility.
There was a time, not so long ago, when some liberals understood this. Anyone recall Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire’s monthly “Golden Fleece Award” for wasteful government spending? The media loved that gimmick. Where is the liberal who today will raise a voice to criticize wasteful government spending (with the exception of military spending)? Back in the 1970s in his first turn in Sacramento Jerry Brown displayed some Proxmier-like instincts on government waste. Not any more. Instead today he’s pumping for the multi-billion-dollar high-speed train to nowhere that even California’s air-headed masses have turned against.
Romney may or may not be able to defeat Obama in November; obviously we’ll have a lot to say about the campaign as it unfolds. But I can predict this: if Obama manages to eke out re-election, his second term will just about finish off liberalism and its vessel, the Democratic Party. The larger question is whether he’ll finish off the country along with it.