The Liberal Agenda Backfires

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, January 24, 2011 | Go to article overview
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The Liberal Agenda Backfires


Will, George F., Newsweek


Byline: George F. Will

Obama has been a tonic for conservatism.

A specter is haunting Europe--the specter of Communism.

--Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

A specter is haunting America, the specter of Europe. Which is just one reason why Barack Obama's first two years have been such a tonic for conservatism.

America's debate about government's proper size and purposes has proceeded against the backdrop of European disorders, such as rioting by French young people. Some of them, although they have not yet entered the labor market (unemployment is 25 percent among those under 25), are indignant that when they do, they will have to remain in it for two extra years because the retirement age has been raised to 62.

Such demonstrations of government-induced decadence--a.k.a. the entitlement mentality--have provided counterpoints to the Great Unraveling. That has been the fate of American liberals' agenda in the 24 months since Barack Obama's inauguration. That event was supposed to launch a long liberal epoch, something unknown since the one that ended in 1938, when the nation recoiled against Franklin Roosevelt's overreaching, which included his attempt to "pack" the Supreme Court by enlarging it. Because the episode that ended in 1938 had lasted only six years, counting it as an "epoch" amounts to defining "epoch" down. Today, the long list of liberal disappointments is still growing:

Organized labor's top priority--"card check" legislation to make unionization of workplaces easier by abolishing workers' rights to secret ballots--is dead. So is the environmentalists' dream of a cap-and-trade regime--or, failing that, a carbon tax. The Environmental Protection Agency, which seems determined to do by regulation what Congress will not do by legislation concerning limits on emissions, is provoking a contest with Congress over supremacy--a contest the EPA cannot win because Congress cannot afford to lose.

The near invisibility and complete futility of last month's Cancon conference on climate change marked the exhaustion of a U.N. delusion: It was that almost 200 nations were going to negotiate a treaty unanimously requiring a few of them to bribe the rest to reduce greenhouse--gas emissions--and that 67 U.S. senators would vote to ratify it.

Things that liberals thought would be gone by now include: Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, and the Bush tax rates.

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