The political success of liberalism is parasitic, feeding off order and prosperity that the implementation of liberal policies couldn't possibly create.
Bill Clinton's recent bragging on the campaign trail about the budgets that he balanced in the 1990s is an illustration of this: Where did those budgets come from? Not from the policies of liberalism. Take away the significant reductions in defense spending that came from Ronald Reagan winning the Cold War, the wealth from an entrepreneurial economy that an era of tax cuts generated, and the check on Democratic spending schemes from Newt Gingrich's Congress, and those budgets would never have been balanced.
In his first term, Clinton had every intention of busting the budget with HillaryCare, but he just couldn't get away with it. If Clinton is a "successful" president, as pundits these days insist, that's because his agenda failed where Obama's succeeded. By passing ObamaCare and a raft of other bad bills, the Democrats have made it possible for voters to measure liberal rhetoric against the grim realities it produces. The parasite got fat enough to eat the conservative host whole, and now it is dying.
What Joe Biden blurted out this week -- that Democrats can't run on their policy accomplishments because they are "just too hard to explain" -- captures the problem of liberalism perfectly. It is seductive in theory but inexplicable in practice. The key to its political appeal is that it never be applied.
Conservatism, on the other hand, faces the opposite problem: it is harder to sell before application than after it. Before application, it is dismissed as "cold" and "unrealistic." After, it is treated as sound and necessary. Reagan was a cloddish "reactionary"; now he is a gentle sage.
Liberalism normally enjoys the demagogic advantage of appealing to emotion over reason. But in moments of crisis, people want reason over emotion. That's why Obama's appeals to envy have fallen so flat during this campaign season. People who want jobs from the rich don't want to hear them demonized; people who want loans from bankers don't want to see them destroyed.
The Democrats' familiar scare tactics have lost their power to scare. Now when a Democrat accuses a Republican candidate of threatening this or that federal government program, voters either tune him out or think more fondly of his opponent. Economic decline has also blunted the impact of their sentimental and dilettantish liberalism: talk of "carbon credits" and endangered species grows more faint.
Bill Clinton's boasts took place at a campaign stop for Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democratic Senate candidate who is trying hard to beat past the ideological right of his Republican opponent. Manchin, desperate to appear as "hicky" as any Republican-hired actor, emerges in one recent campaign ad with rifle in hand, firing a bullet into a copy of the "cap-and-trade" bill. Manchin says that he is in no mood for tony environmentalism or socialist health care, and lets it be known that he will back his miners to the hilt.
Polluting miners are suddenly a welcome part of the Democratic proletariat again. Even the liberal illuminati suspended its anxieties over global warming to gush about the cigarette-smoking Chilean miners this week. Tina Brown appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" to pronounce them more worthy heroes than the overhyped Captain Sullenberger, a comment so absurd the host filling in for Joe Scarborough had to shut her up by noting sarcastically the hundred-plus lives the pilot saved on the Hudson. The other liberals gathered around the table didn't seem to approve of her comment either, though they perked up at the topic of the miners in general, treating it as a welcome respite from gloomy talk about the Democrats' chances in November.