Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Impending Liberal Reformation

Given all the advantages the Democrats had in this election year, it is astonishing that the election of Barack Obama was so close. An unpopular war abroad, turmoil among our allies, widespread mismanagement of the government by the incumbent, and economic chaos at home, should have made them unbeatable. And yet it was not until the final weeks of the campaign—with a big boost from Wall Street, which collapsed just as the Democrats seemed poised and determined to blow yet another big game—that Obama began to pull away. And his margin of victory was hardly the Rooseveltian margin that we might expect from a party benefitting from Liliputian approval ratings for the party in the White House. But since the approval rating of the Democratically-controlled Congress was even more microscopic, perhaps it is not terribly surprising. When the public is disgusted with both parties, the verdict of an election is unlikely to be a thundering endorsement. It is, rather, going to be a sigh of resignation...and the weary hope that the new crop of fools won’t be any worse than the last batch.

Perhaps the biggest millstone around Obama’s neck was baggage he was forced to carry for his own own party. The Liberal label has fallen into such disrepute that the biggest attraction of the Republican Party for moderates and independents was that it was not the party of Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi. This problem is, of course, entirely self-inflicted—and perhaps begins with the belief that they are so right in what they think, that anyone who disagrees with them is unfit for polite company.

As self-proclaimed saviors go, the Liberal Leadership is relatively benign: Stalin, Hitler, and Mao also viewed themselves as saviors, and littered the ground with the corpses of those who disagreed with them. In our society, we don’t kill dissenters: though we may try to destroy their names, reputations, and livelihoods, we are civilized enough not soil the ground with their blood.. Instead, we’ve seen that shredding reputations, or calling people who voice doubts about the Zeitgeist “intolerant,” is enough to keep most people in line. And since most “right-thinking people” shudder at the thought of being called racist, sexist, or any other kind of -ist that is de rigeur, the result is predicable: a mindless herd following meekly along, while the majority of people stands on the sidelines, shaking their heads and wondering why we’re suddenly overcome with lunatics.

Ironically, in many ways today’s Liberals stand in much the same place that the Troglodyte Right did during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. Then, as now, those who strayed from the “right-thinking” orthodoxy were threatened with personal and professional ruin if they did not conform, at least outwardly, to the prevailing point of view. And today’s array of Looney Lefties finds its counterpoint in the various strains of extremists that plagued the conservative side of the political spectrum in the 1950s: the Birch Society, anti-Floride-in-the-water, bitter anti-Black, anti-Semite, anti-Everything-that-is-not-us mindset that dogged conservatives in the early Cold War years—until the movement, led by conservative intellectuals like William F. Buckley and Brent Bozell, managed to purge itself of its less reputable components. This development not only resurrected conservatism as a respectable political belief, but also paved the way for the modern conservative movement, led by Ronald Reagan, to reclaim both its philosophical soul, and the White House. Unfortunately, in politics as in most things, humans appear unable to refrain from making a hash of things, and recent years have seen hubris and foolishness manage to overtake the conservative movement, much like it overtook the liberals, forty years ago.

Today’s economic and political troubles stem, in some measure, from the self-indulgence of conservatives who grew complacent with their hold on power. Much like the fall of liberalism growing from its own self-indulgence in the 1960s, the failure of modern conservatism to live up to its ideals has led the public to search elsewhere for new hope and a fresh set of ideas. But this does not mean merely a swing of the pendulum to a fresh set of lunatics: as William F. Buckley warned his own conservative movement as liberalism was falling apart in the 1960s, when the leaders of a movement are seen to be consorting with crackpots, the public is apt to bypass “crackpot alley” in favor of what they perceive to be sanity—however misguided it might be—on the other side. For Buckley and the conservatives in the 1960s, their challenge was to separate themselves from the Birchers and other “crackpots” whom the public saw as the public face of the political right. While the public might be willing to punish those who are busy making a hash of things for an election cycle or two, enduring political power will never flow to those who consort with lunatics. And so the later success of the conservative movement in this country—for forty years, from 1968 until the present, they had lost the presidency only twice—depended upon shedding its crackpots, and forging a political alliance based upon solid, understandable principles.

Today, the challenge of modern liberals is similar. Confronting an opposing party in shambles, the Democrats have regained power for just the third time since the end of the Johnson Administration. The narrowness of their margin of victory was supplied by a tide of public discontent and hope for a better future, and by an unusually charismatic candidate. It did not come from any reservoir of public trust of affection, for liberalism today has not outgrown its self-indulgent past. It is being dragged down by claims of many of its fringe groups to entitlement to public moneys, or special favors from a public, now facing an economic crisis, which is sick of the spectacle of special interests feeding at the public treasury. If it succumbs to the demands of its extreme elements, the new administration will simply be a way station on the return to business as usual: once the new fools prove as incapable of sensible action as the old fools, the public will inevitably toss them out, vainly hoping that some other set of fools will somehow manage to get it right.

Liberalism once laid its claim to idealism by trumpeting free trade, low taxes, a strong national defense, and a willingness to use the power of government to help people willing to work to achieve whatever dreams they might have. Liberals squandered the trust of the public by trying to make government the instrument of quotas and entitlements, and by allowing itself to be seized by those demanding favors—and money—from an increasingly powerful central authority.

Perhaps the most critical moment in any democracy is the moment that the public realizes that it can vote itself funds from the revenues of the government. History shows that this realization often ushers in an era in which power devolves to whichever party promises the most to its constituents—and that over the next few generations, this can lead to economic decline, widespread dependency on the generosity of the government, and the slow death of democratic ideals in favor of an increasingly powerful state. Democracy rests perilously on a society which has learned to resort to the public treasury as a source of private wealth. And in our current economic crisis, the temptation will be to use the resources of the federal government to protect us from economic turmoil—resources that came from all of us in the first place, and which inevitably draw the attention of a wide range of special interests, eager to seize a share of the fortunes to be made by plucking riches from the Federal treasury.

But the country needs a fresh infusion of ideals, and a party that stands for something besides the amalgamated claims of a host of special interests. Largely because the movement has been defined by its extremists, it has been years since liberals could run without disguising their true colors. The weight of the accumulated baggage has simply made their “label” politically unpalatable to a large segment of the population. And much of the public is too civic-minded and independent to accept the notion that the source of all wealth and wisdom can be found in the halls of Washington.

It is time for them to stand up to their lunatics and reclaim the rich heritage that was once theirs. Both the country—and their political opponents—would benefit from having two responsible parties competing for the public’s trust.

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a veteran public prosecutor in Detroit, Michigan, specializes in the appellate practice of criminal law and writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the exciting second volume in the Guardians of Peace-tm series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

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