The Current Crisis

Return of the Liberal Death Wish

Only problem is this time it's killing all of us.

By 6.4.14

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WASHINGTON—Some forty-five ago one of the era’s great wits and finest writers, the Englishman, Malcolm Muggeridge, used to write about the Liberal Death Wish. He saw the Death Wish at work everywhere. In the liberals’ appeasement of the Soviets, he saw it. In liberals’ extravagant extension of the welfare state, he saw it. For a certitude, he was right. The liberals of the day died off and were replaced by Margaret Thatcher in Britain and by Ronald Reagan in America. Not much was heard of them for years until Tony Blair and Bill Clinton came along, and both men’s liberalism was greatly truncated.

The Liberal Death Wish was Muggeridge’s true insight, but by the 1980s the death wish had only killed off the liberals. The rest of us escaped. The West managed to overcome the liberals’ instrumentalities of death. In the Cold War President Ronald Reagan’s military buildup, contrary to those who said it was reckless and dangerous, managed to practically bankrupt the Soviet Union. The liberals had many a good laugh at his Star Wars project, but the Soviet generals were not laughing. They saw Star Wars as causing them one more futile expenditure on their road to ruin. As far as domestic policy goes, Western prosperity — in America goaded by tax cuts — allowed us to continue the extravagance of the welfare state, though just barely. The excessive costs of the project continued. Nicholas Eberstadt in a thoughtful essay for the Weekly Standard calculates that from the Great Society on we have spent $1 trillion on anti-poverty programs, and the poverty level is about where it was in 1966.

With the Obama Administration the spending on anti-poverty programs — and on much else — has multiplied. The government regulation, for instance, Dodd-Frank, has been onerous. The result is the weakest recovery on record in modern times. In foreign policy the President continues to lead from behind, or just around the corner, or not even lead at all, as he lectured us from West Point last week. With this disastrous Administration we have again returned to the Liberal Death Wish, and it threatens all of us.

In domestic policy Mr. Obama entered office facing unsustainable budget deficits and his answer was Obamacare, the largest, most extravagant, most mishandled expense in American history. In foreign policy he has botched two wars. With Russia he has a simulacrum of the Cold War going on. And he just freed five terrorist chieftains in exchange for what turned out to be an Army deserter. This is the Liberal Death Wish with no Lady Thatcher or Ronald Reagan standing in the wings.

Yet I would counsel once again optimism. This present Liberal Death Wish, as with the last Liberal Death Wish, will probably only finish off the left. Just this past week, with Mr. Obama’s EPA regulations afflicting energy-producing states and turning them towards the Republicans in the fall elections, I think we can foresee Republican domination of both houses. That along with Republican domination of most states will make it difficult for Mr. Obama to extend his mischief. Then in 2016 it is up to Republicans to find a suitable replacement for Ronald Reagan and win the White House.

Still, in light of what happened to the left liberals the last time that they were tempted by a Death Wish, one has to wonder why they would try again. Arguably they were out of office from 1981 until 2009. Sure Bill Clinton is claiming he was with them all the way in the 1990s, but obviously it is another of his multitudinous lies. Is he not the fellow who asseverated in his 1996 State of the Union address that “The era of big government is over”? And did not the Hon. Newt Gingrich see to it that it was? I say that this time the era of big government will be over for years to come. Possibly the left will go the way of the dinosaurs. Our President, when he passes to glory, will be put in a museum.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.