The high priests of liberalism must be tossing and turning in their organic cotton bedding and downing more small-batch artisanal whisky each night trying to cope with the abject failure of their cause.
They know, even if the masses do not yet fully understand, that their worldview no longer makes sense in light of scandal after scandal in Washington and that the end result could be a great, if slow, deconversion on the scale of the millions who no longer believe in the Christianity its philosophy replaced.
Government, they have told us, is inherently good, like the people it helps. Its largesse helps the poor, its inclusiveness expands rights for all and fairness motivates it. And it is intrinsic to individual success – as the hypothetical “Julia” portrayed in Barack Obama’s recent presidential campaign tried to prove.
This worldview diagnoses government problems as merely a question of bad management or lack of funding, which is why federal government workers and contractors have become in the past decade some of the most highly educated and best paid people in America. And it is why programs which fail to meet goals expand and quality is almost always measured by “inputs” — how much money is spent, how many people are signed up, how many training courses are completed, for example — instead of “outputs” like knowledge acquired and people living independent, productive lives.
But the Internal Revenue Service’s abuse of conservative groups, and revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) is cataloguing every phone call and email Americans make don’t mesh with the prevailing view of government benevolence. Neither do revelations that the Justice Department criminalized reporting nor those that show high ranking State Department leaders quashed investigations of prostitution and drug abuse among its ranks synch with that outlook. And it clashes with the promise newly elected Barack Obama made in January 2009 that he would “hold myself as president to a new standard of openness….Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”
With respect to the NSA and press monitoring revelations it seems the only right to privacy Barack Obama’s administration recognizes is the right to kill unborn children without restrictions with taxpayer dollars.
This unhinging of the administration from recognizable liberal ideals is the end result of progressivism, which knows no law except “forward.” As Philip Rieff wrote in his brilliant 1966 The Triumph of the Therapeutic, “We believe we can live freely at last, enjoying all our senses — except the sense of the past — as unremembering, honest and friendly barbarians all, in a technological Eden.”
But to admit that once sacred principles are obsolete would be political suicide for a man who fulfilled the promises of the great 20th-century liberal causes — civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, workers’ rights — for millions of Americans. So Mr. Obama is struggling to maintain the old order by making it seem that the omnipresent monitoring of email and tracking of phone records of Americans are really just “modest encroachments” on privacy that are perfectly legal and nothing new.
True believers will cling to his words. But the scales have fallen from the eyes of a media that protected the administration it believed in, and it is only a matter of time before any American who cares to look will see the disconnect between the personal fulfillment and liberation promised by big government and the evil it delivered in the name of safety.
Given that decades of Americans have been steeped for their full lives in the doctrine of government as the solution and savior in public schools, colleges and culture, to what will they turn when liberalism’s lie hits them? I don’t know. But its undoing will give the timeless principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution a fighting chance against a “forward” that looks more like a backward totalitarian state than the utopia John Lennon sang about in “Imagine.”