Obamacare’s failure poses a threat to the future of liberalism as a movement, writes Todd Purdum in a Politico op-ed. The health care law represents the hopes and dreams of progressivism, with Obama as an Atlas on whose shoulders lie the future of America and social justice. But doesn’t Mr. Purdum know that liberalism is already dead? The president isn’t carrying America’s future on his shoulders, but rather a coffin. And that coffin was nailed shut by TAS‘s own R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.
Mr. Tyrrell’s book The Death of Liberalism was published in 2011. Obamacare, officially called the Affordable Care Act, was only in its infancy, and Obama still had some of his first term left to finish, but the signs of Liberalism’s demise were plain as day, if you knew where to look.
The reason for the death of Liberalism (Mr. Tyrrell uses a capital L to distinguish the “progressive,” Democrat sort of Liberalism from classical liberalism) is overreach. Perhaps Europeans are willing to accept radical and drastic changes to society and abandon the last vestiges of free enterprise, but in the United States we’re prepared at most to accept baby steps. Even Purdum concedes that the nation is essentially center-right.
Last century, the biggest overreach came from FDR and the New Dealers. “It is fair to say that the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt represented a seminal moment in our history,” writes Tyrrell. “Before him there were things a president could not and would not do. After him it was debatable, and the president usually won the debate.”
It was Bill Clinton and his excesses that poisoned Liberalism’s make-or-break moment. When he should’ve been convincing the public that it needed Hillarycare and higher taxes on the rich, Bill Clinton was engaging in distracting imbroglios, and his wife seemed to skirt on the edge of indictment. Tyrrell presents a litany of the Clintons’ credits:
Savor these estimates of the forty-second president upon his absconding from the White House. Clinton was “totally indefensible” (Joe Biden); “disgraceful” (Jimmy Carter); “terrible,” “devastating,” and “appalling” (William Daley); “Clinton is utterly disgraced” (former Clinton secretary of labor Robert Reich); and “some of Mr. Clinton’s closest associates and supporters are acknowledging what his enemies have argued for years—the man is so thoroughly corrupt it is frightening” (New York Times columnist Bob Herbert).
Eight years of a compassionate conservative president gave the sick man that was Liberalism one last chance to nurse himself back to health, and Barack Obama was supposed to be the doctor. But President Obama proved himself to be a “stealth socialist” at best, a “friendly fascist” at worst. Dodd-Frank has turned out to be a regulatory nightmare. Obama’s recess appointments to the NLRB were deemed unconstitutional. Just two years of Obama was enough to reanimate conservatives, centrists, libertarians, et. al., leading Republicans to take control of the House and most of the state legislatures. And now, as Tyrrell warned, Obamacare is blowing up in a spectacular fashion.
Tyrrell’s predictions are echoed today by the likes of Purdum, but also by pundits like Bob Woodward (infamously threatened by Obama’s administration), House and Senate Democrats who are desperately rushing to put some distance between themselves and the unpopular law, editorial boards, and public opinion. It sounds like a death rattle.
“So the fiasco of the launch of Obama’s sweeping health care overhaul has put the reputation of Big Government progressivism at risk for at least this generation,” wrote Purdum. But it’s the endless stream of fiascos, from the early 20th century on, that have destroyed the reputation of progressivism. Liberalism has manifested itself in so many different forms—Wilsonian progressivism, the New Deal, European Social Democracies, Communism, Fascism, and the “middle of the road” approach that the Obama set now claims. What variation on the theme is left at this point?
“[T]he future of the Democratic Party’s plausible agenda, and of liberalism itself, is on the line,” writes Purdum. “Obama’s challenge is now nothing less than to assure that the cycle of progressivism he presumed to usher in, and the period of renewed faith and confidence in the transformative powers of government that he promised, does not die aborning. That will be no easy task.”
It certainly won’t be easy, and for us it’ll be comedic. At TAS, we’re thinking the defense of Liberalism is going to resemble Weekend at Bernies in which two numbskulls spend a movie trying to convince people that their dead boss is still alive, as they prop up his corpse in a series of amusing hijinks. There’s always a danger of zombies, but The American Spectator is a great defense against the undead.
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