Few dare to say it, but it's time we acknowledged a sad truth
about American politics: liberalism is dead - and it has been for 40
Of course, America's conservative talk-show hosts can't admit
this without facing the embarrassing fact that they have been
beating a dead horse all this time. One can imagine their fervent
prayer: "Dear God, we don't have Soviet Communists anymore. Please
keep a few liberals for us to kick around."
As a political ideology, liberalism has been so discredited that
few people even dare to call themselves liberal.
A half-century ago, the opposite was true: liberalism was the
dominant, almost exclusive force in American politics.
How did this reversal happen?
As an intellectual force, political liberalism went out of office
with Lyndon Johnson. Public disenchantment with LBJ's Great Society
programs during the Vietnam era, muddling it together with
permissive sex, drugs, and rock "n" roll, was liberalism's death
America has tilted right ever since. It twice elected Republican
Richard Nixon, who was then succeeded by a Midwest conservative,
Gerald Ford. Though saddled with scandals, he nearly beat Democrat
Jimmy Carter in 1976. But President Carter was no liberal. Recall
that Ted Kennedy tried - and failed - to dethrone him in 1980.
Then, two terms of Ronald Reagan plus another term of George H.W.
Bush gave Americans what they wanted: 12 years of conservatism. Mr.
Bush was denied a second term mostly because Ross Perot siphoned off
his votes. Without Perot, there would have been no Clinton
But even President Clinton's two terms did little to halt
liberalism's demise. Indeed, he was complicitous in the conservative
effort to peel away the last layers of the New Deal and the Great
In 2000, the Supreme Court anointed right-wing Republican George
W. Bush as president. His two terms have driven a stake through
Today, some take hope in the popularity of Democratic contender
Barack Obama. He is, after all, the most liberal member of the
Senate, according to a National Journal ranking.
But today, that distinction seems as quaint as an Amish buggy
poking down a Pennsylvania country road.
Any reported wave of liberalism simply cannot buck the
conservative tide. Regardless of who is elected president in 2008,
there seems to be little enthusiasm for liberalism.
More important, there is little or no money to fund new social