The Death of Liberalism - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Death of Liberalism


The characteristics of a baby or child, says Webster’s.

Being infantile is a charming characteristic — in a baby or child. In adults? Adults charged with the serious responsibility of discussing or actually running public policy?

Never good. As seen here in this story about Occupy Wall Street, replete with photo of a protester defecating on a police car.

R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. has been observing and writing about this kind of ludicrous behavior that he terms the “Infantile Left” for some 40-plus years through the magazine that he created and you are reading, The American Spectator.

What brought this memorable photo of a defecating Occupy protestor to mind was reading the stunning, pull-back-and-survey-the-battlefield book that is Tyrrell’s new book, The Death of Liberalism.

The book is nothing less than an autopsy conducted while the battle still rages. An astute recognition that Liberalism’s defenders are being reduced by the day if not the hour to the political equivalent of the survivors of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, the latter known to history as the high-water mark of the Confederacy. A great swarming, savage last-assault across the political battlefields into the incessant cannon and rifle fire of the American majority. Leaving in the aftermath not only massive Liberal casualties on the battlefield, but inducing a sense of crippling psychological failure among the Liberal survivors, of which at the moment the Occupy Wall Street debacle — they of the defecating-on-police-cars and rape tents crowd — is the most vivid example.

The irony? It wasn’t always so.

Classical liberalism, as Tyrrell states, originally “stood for adherence to individual liberty, to tolerance, to reason, and for many of us, to empiricism.” The classic liberalism of a George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and the others known today as the Founding Fathers but one example, if the example most familiar to Americans.

Tyrrell cites this wonderful definition of classical liberalism given all the way back in 1873 by England’s Sir William Harcourt, who made the point in a talk at Oxford. Liberty, said Harcourt,

…does not consist in making others do what you think is right. The difference between a free Government and a Government which is not free is principally this — that a Government which is not free interferes with everything it can, and a free Government interferes with nothing except what it must. A despotic government tries to make everybody do what it wishes, a Liberal Government tries, so far as the safety of society will permit, to allow everybody to do what he wishes.

Harcourt anticipated the reign of Obama and Pelosi by 139 years. In the style of true conservatives everywhere, he understood the eternal human nature — and its temptations with centralized power.

Tyrrell employs a literary device that originated with the late William F. Buckley, Jr. To wit, separating the original meaning of “liberal” in its classic sense from today’s term by capitalizing the word to “Liberal” or “Liberalism.” It is a useful device to differentiate what has come to mean two very, very different belief systems, one of them appallingly nuts.

For a small sample of just how infantile one can see the Infantile Left at work here in Oakland, California in 2011, in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, at the Pentagon in 1967, in Los Angeles in 1992 or all manner of places in 1986 when Ronald Reagan bombed Libya in response to an attack on U.S. military personnel in then-West Germany. Here’s an interesting one with Infantile Left expressing itself on the environment. And who could miss these two bookmarks to the career of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry doing the Infantile Left gig here (as captured in a Swiftboat ad) and here, where he windsurfed as a presidential candidate. And there’s Hillary as potential president

The examples are endless, and you can’t make it up.

The details of the Liberal autopsy begin immediately, with Dr. Tyrrell walking slowly around a figurative steel table examining the lifeless political corpse, diligently recording the life of the deceased. Just who were these Liberals, anyway? After 40 some odd-years of experience, Tyrrell knows them well. Liberals:

…who began as the rightful heirs to the New Deal, have carried on as a kind of landed aristocracy, gifted but doomed. They dominated the culture and the politics of the country, unchallenged from the beginnings of the Cold War to the first Nixon Administration. So dominant were they that they could totally pollute the culture with their prejudices and their views. In its place they created Kultursmog, a Kultur whose contaminants were everywhere in the media, among the literate classes, even among illiterates — everywhere. Kultursmog is the only form of pollution to which the Liberals never object. In fact, they deem it healthy.

While Tyrrell doesn’t say it here, the saga of Liberals is not unlike the saga of the late Whitney Houston. At one time the very essence of raw talent refined, polished, sparkling and dominant. Followed by the inevitable results of decline evident after years of what might be called snorting political cocaine — the dependence on sheer racism, a culture that glorifies sexual gratification, a wild addiction to the idea of feel-good emotions replacing hard science, economics and plain common sense. Followed by the inevitable…political death.

No, one does not crap on a police car to make a point about economics.

Rational political actors do not get drunk and leave a girl in a car to drown then resume a lifelong Senate career as if nothing untoward had happened. One doesn’t fan riots or anti-Semitism that results in death and destruction of property, gain fame by making preposterously false allegations of a racial rape — and get to host an MSNBC television show as a reward. Paying off a pregnant mistress with tax-deductible funds after exhibiting one’s streak of anti-Semitism by musing aloud to a reporter about New York City as “Hymietown” shouldn’t make one a serious player in a serious political party. Not to mention that fiddling with an intern and lying about it to a grand jury should cause more than an “ahem” from a party that insists it is fighting some grand war for women. As Tyrrell documents, the list of infantile behavior by the left is long, well beyond the specifics of behaviors by the late Senator Edward Kennedy, the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and, of course, President Bill Clinton. Not to mention the monkey business of one-time presidential hopeful Gary Hart with Donna Rice and the still imploding reputation of ex-Senator and 2004 vice-presidential nominee John Edwards. The plagiarism scandal of Joe Biden has elevated him to the vice-presidency.

But there is more to this behavior that has caused the Death of Liberalism. There are those pesky fundamentals called issues, approached by Liberals with what Tyrrell correctly calls the real objective of the “Stealth Socialist.” (Interestingly, Tyrrell points out that when Republicans are presented with political leaders who engage in likeminded personal misbehavior, they reject them — two of the more prominent examples being the presidential run of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the exploded career of South Carolina’s Governor Mark Sanford.)

One by one Tyrrell examines issues and events that served as the proximate cause of Liberalism’s death . And the Stealth Socialist issues and events are as momentous if perhaps not as memorable as the personal behavior is tawdry.

Henry Wallace: The rise and fall of FDR’s Liberal Vice President Henry Wallace, whose Liberalism even in 1944 touched off alarm bells with the powers-that-be within the Democrats’ own party hierarchy. Replaced by Missouri Senator Harry Truman (and in the nick of time — FDR died a bare four months after being inaugurated, placing Truman, not Wallace, in the White House) Wallace set about leading the opening round of what became the Liberal civil war within the party. Eventually, Wallace departed, becoming the 1948 nominee of the Progressive Party.

The Big Lie: Combined with a laughable yet disturbing sense of moral superiority, the Big Lie is now routinely used as Pickett’s armies used the bayonet. In hand-to-hand political combat the sharp end is pointedly used to accuse of racism those who question Liberalism’s latest panaceas or by shrieking, as Tyrrell notes, that “anyone questioning their latest scheme of alleviating poverty hates the poor.” This use of the Big Lie began with the fiction that Alger Hiss was not a Communist, something that has now been positively affirmed by the release of the Venona files. The longer Hiss lied, the angrier Liberals became at those charging him with lying. More recently when Bill Clinton as president lied under oath about Monica Lewinsky, the Big Lie was employed to insist that “it was a minor infraction of the law, like double-parking one’s tractor in downtown Little Rock.”

McGovernism: In 1972, a young delegate to Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party convention of 1948 was South Dakota Senator George McGovern — the Democrats’ presidential nominee. Tyrrell examines a now obscure but key moment for the Liberals, that being the formation of the “McGovern Commission.” Formed after the pitched battle between Liberals and the battered remnants of the old FDR-Truman Democrats in 1968 — and it was a battle, with Infantile Liberals taking to the streets of Chicago during the party Convention and getting into a furiously bloody battle with the police of the old line Mayor Daley — McGovern’s task was to reform the party’s delegate selection process. He did — by obliterating the idea that individuals should be elected as delegates to the party’s national convention and replacing it with the now-sacred cow of identity politics. If you were black — and X percent of your state’s population was black — you have a delegate’s seat based on skin color. Ditto with gender, etc. Running himself four years later, using the rules he himself had engineered, McGovern not only trounced the party Establishment and won the 1972 nomination but permanently ousted the dwindling remnants of what FDR historian and ex-JFK aide Arthur Schlesinger once termed The Vital Center.

Class Warfare: If FDR employed a bit of class warfare during the Great Depression, it was McGovern who immersed the party in this pernicious cycle of greed and envy. The greed for government money — taxpayer money or “free” money as it is called today — combined with the envy of those who achieved without it. McGovern proposed three policies in particular that caught Tyrrell’s eye in his autopsy, three policies he notes that “stand out as beyond the wildest hallucinations of Henry Wallace” — began instantly to clog the Liberal artery that normally channeled a sensitivity to the sensibilities of working Americans. They were:

— “a government grant of $1,000 annually for every man, woman, and child, rich or poor”;

— ” a 37 percent reduction in the Pentagon budget…the savings going to social welfare programs…”;

— “a rise in taxes, most strikingly on inheritance — no one would be able to receive more than half a million dollars from one’s family in a lifetime or at the time of one’s death!” 

Richard Nixon, not an especially lovable public persona and while conservative in some respects was not even a figure (as was Reagan) of the conservative movement, made chopped liver of all this. He buried McGovern in a 49-state landslide, a decided change from Nixon’s narrow loss to JFK in 1960 and his narrow win over Hubert Humphrey in 1968. McGovern not only lost his home state, he didn’t even win the “youth vote” — the supposed core of his support.

Advocacy Philanthropy: This new kind of philanthropy was begun by ex-JFK and LBJ national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, a former Harvard Dean. Taking over the Ford Foundation after a disastrous tour as a Liberal architect of the Vietnam War, Bundy shifted attention and dollars away from the traditional liberal think tank idea of developing governmental and public policy expertise. Tyrrell quotes the Manhattan Institute’s James Piereson:

Soon, Ford and other liberal (Liberal) donors were investing in a maze of activist groups promoting feminism, affirmative action, environmentalism, disarmament, and other cutting edge causes, The Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Woman’s Law Fund, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund were among the products of this initiative.

All of this ultimately — one could say deliberately — led the way to a process of circumventing the election process in favor of policy by judicial and regulatory fiat. Thereby infuriating millions of Americans who found themselves subjugated — and subjugated is the word — to policies in which they had little or no role in approving. From abortion to school busing to gay marriage to property rights, the American idea was beginning to drown in a sea of court orders and regulations. Suffice to say, they were not happy.

Things were never the same again for liberalism.

It had become the Frankenstein monster of Liberalism. The happy warrior philosophy that once elected FDR, Truman, JFK and LBJ along with 40 years’ worth of a Congress run by an overwhelming number of Democrats was, by 2012, routinely identified in poll after poll as winning only 20 percent of politically self-identified Americans. Between 1968 and 2008, Democrats managed to win the presidency a mere four out of eleven times. The “Reagan Democrat” — Democrats who abandoned Liberalism in droves just as had Ronald Reagan himself — was born. And in each and every case — from Carter to Clinton to Obama — to win a general election Democrats had to campaign openly not on Liberalism but Something Else. As the Annapolis graduate and businessman/farmer (Carter), the New Democrat (Clinton), the Hope and Change Democrat (Obama). Indeed, when the Democrats’ monopoly on Capitol Hill ended in a rout in 1994, President Clinton quickly abandoned his Liberal colors. Suddenly, for post-1994 Clinton, “the era of Big Government” was over. He won re-election — with a bare 49% of the vote.

By 2008, Tyrrell notes, even as Obama was winning (on the necessary set of false promises) the Liberal historian Sean Wilentz of Princeton could see what was coming down the road in 2010:

Plagued by divisions of race, ideology, and political temperament that dated back to the late 1960s; unable to unite around a coherent set of attitudes, let alone ideas foreign policy and the military or domestic issues; beholden to a disparate collection of special constituencies and interest groups, each with its own agenda, the quarrelsome Democrats made the fractured Republican Party look like a juggernaut.

Two years later in 2010, as Tyrrell notes, “the undertakers arrived to take charge of the Liberal corpse.”

When one adds the traits of the Infantile Left to the Stealth Socialist, how else could 2010 have turned out?

Barack Obama is, as Tyrrell fingers exactly, the Stealth Socialist of all Stealth Socialists.

As president he may be indecisive, but he rarely shimmies from the ideological roots of the Stealth Socialist. How could he?

One could not possibly have the background of being a community organizer, a regular, 20-year attendee sitting in the pews of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s church and inhaling Wright’s fiery sermons on “God damn America” or on black liberation theology, not to mention launching a legislative campaign from the living room of the unrepentant terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn and be anything else.

Think of that background. The implicit demanding of services from the government that is the job of a community organizer. The nonsense pudding that is black liberation theology combined with the Infantile Leftism that was (and is) the behavior of Ayers and Dohrn. It is a snapshot of nothing other than Stealth Socialism in action


Why should you buy this book of Tyrrell’s?

There is a reason — and a considerable reason at that.

Standing back and looking at the spectacular fall that has resulted in The Death of Liberalism, it is important to note that its conservative critics have helped illuminate (if not speed up!) the process of understanding by serving as the chroniclers of that fall.

Importantly, Bob Tyrrell’s book is not a stand-alone.

There is a growing catalogue of important books that have helped educate on exactly what Americans of the late 20th and early 21st century have been living through.

Whether reading Mark Levin’s books Liberty and Tyranny or Ameritopia; Ann Coulter’s Demonic; Sean Hannity’s Conservative Victory; Michelle Malkin’s Culture of Corruption; Angelo Codevilla’s The Ruling Class, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism or Stanley Kurtz’s Radical-in-Chief (a relentless examination of Obama’s socialist roots that have given rise to the Stealth Socialist) — each in their own fashion are providing an in-depth understanding of the failures of Liberalism. Why it came to be, what is its history, where did its distinguishing feature of utopianism come from, why and how does it corrupt, how does it manifest itself and how to beat it have all been critical to understanding Liberalism.

What Bob Tyrrell is documenting here is in the nature of a political suicide — a political idea birthed in poisonous nonsense that has become a political death with immense consequences for America and Liberalism’s now decades-old war with conservatism. He takes one on a tour de force of Rousseau, Marx, the historic connections of the latter with anti-Semitism and racism. He touches on what can only be called the closing of the liberal mind, the visceral refusal of modern-day Liberals to participate in debates with conservatives and finding only time to engage in furious long-distance name calling devoid of a solitary intellectual concept.

Last but certainly not least he runs the numbers that confirm The Death of Liberalism. From Gallup to Pew to Harris to CBS and other scorekeepers, the repeated verification of dropping numbers of self-identified Liberals to the point of an extinguished political pulse is documented.

So what’s next? After any death there is a pause to reflect over the life of the deceased.

The trail of destruction Liberalism has left in its wake is mind-boggling. Tyrrell grimly concludes what we all know:

The budgetary deficits we are facing are staggering, and the federal government’s level of indebtedness is worse. More subtly, our freedoms and our constitutional form of government are making heavy weather of it. 

All of which has left Americans with a vast yet terribly necessary job.

That job?

To remember the famous encounter of Founding Father (and classical liberal) Benjamin Franklin after he had emerged from the lengthy proceedings of the Constitutional Convention and was confronted by a woman who inquired as to what the delegates had given America.

“We have given you a Republic,” Franklin responded. ” If you can keep it.”

The election of 2010 demonstrates, Tyrrell believes — with considerable justification — that there are in fact millions of Americans who are determined to do just that. They understand full well the stakes, that a historic moment is at hand. They love America — and they want to keep it.

“Something is alive in the land,” Tyrrell concludes. That something? “The Constitution.”

“And something is dead: Liberalism.”


Jeffrey Lord
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Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is a former aide to Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. An author and former CNN commentator, he writes from Pennsylvania at His new book, Swamp Wars: Donald Trump and The New American Populism vs. The Old Order, is now out from Bombardier Books.
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