THERE’S AN OLD GAME played by ideologues called Predict the Other Side’s Demise. “Conservatism is dead, once and for all,” declared the New York Times when Goldwater lost to LBJ in 1964-and NBC’s Chet Huntley added, just to drive a stake through the heart, that Goldwater voters were “segregationists, Johnson-phobes, desperate conservatives, and radical nuts.” The same sort of nonsense has been repeated every time conservatives lose an election.
Now it’s our turn. We include in this issue several pieces on the state of our old nemesis, liberalism. Bob Tyrrell starts off, declaring the whole operation dead, kaput, out of business. James Piereson, who wrote a piece a year ago on the topic of the death of conservatism (it survived, he wrote), takes issue with Tyrrell, saying that liberalism is alive if not terribly well, and sufficiently institutionalized as part of the state that if it dies it will take the country down with it. Conrad Black surveys liberalism’s ups and downs since FDR, noting in particular how conservatives have had to ride to the rescue each time liberalism has done its work. Finally, our reporter and political writer Jim Antle looks at the new Congress, concluding that liberals are marginalizing themselves on the edge of sanity as the party drifts ever further to the left.
As for Tyrrell, it would be sweet if he were more accurate in his predictions than the New York Times, but I’m not sure I’d bet the ranch on it. (Besides, liberals have been the butt of so many Spectator jokes over the years it would be a shame if they just disappeared.)
What passes for the vibrancy of liberal philosophy, the pride with which liberals tout their ideas, and the emergence of great spokesmen for the cause does not say much for the health of the thing. From that standpoint, one might conclude the liberals are spent, out of energy, and near death. But one might also conclude that they are too busy running things to pay attention to new ideas.
We talk often about the liberal elites or, as some might call them, the Ruling Class. Self-identified liberals hold most of the levers of power: the media and publishing industry, universities and the bureaucracy, much of Wall Street, the legal profession, the Fortune 500. And of course the Democratic Party, the public employee and teachers unions, and the large foundations. They may not think much about liberal ideology, but they sure think a lot about running the world.
Liberals also have a sort of shadow government-an intricate web of statist individuals and organizations who seem to have endless funding, unfettered access to the bureaucracy, and a willingness to drive the country as far left as they can. These are not people who sit around thinking about philosophy or what the results of their efforts might be. They just think about power, how they can achieve it at whatever expense. These are not liberals, at least the tweedy, kind-hearted people who want to feed the poor and make peace in the world, but radicals who want to transform America.
Which may actually be what is happening to liberalism: if it is moribund it is because many of its old haunts have been taken over by the far left. Those liberals left standing cannot get in a word edgewise, so they just go along with the leftists. Obama, for one, is no liberal but, as Stanley Kurtz points out in his thorough and thought-provoking book Radical in Chief, a socialist at heart and the product of nonstop training by old Marxists, SDS-ers, and other left-wing radicals. His agenda — to structurally change the country into a Scandinavian-style democratic socialist state — has become the agenda of the old liberals who unabashedly do Obama’s bidding for him.
Liberals thrive on and are unapologetic advocates of the expansion of government; conservatives are unapologetic advocates of limited government. Until that time when conservatives get their way, liberalism will remain a force we’ll all need to contend with.