American liberalism today is in an advanced stage of intellectual decline. Cynical and short sighted interests wrap themselves in the increasingly tattered mantles of sacred ideas. Liberals are right to feel that social justice matters, that the poor should have greater opportunity and that government in a democratic society cannot remain indifferent to the existence of great social evils.
But where liberals in America have the freest hand—in states like New York, California and Illinois—we see incontrovertible evidence that the policies they choose don't have the consequences they predict. California by now should surely be an educational, environmental and social utopia. New York should be a wonder of glorious liberal governance. Illinois should be known far and wide as the state that works.
What's interesting about the governance failures of these states is how comprehensive they are. Other than politicians, union officials and Wall Street investment banks, nobody really benefits from the choices Illinois has made. As the Volker-Ravitch report tells us, even the public sector unions, the architects of many of the state's most destructive policies, are going to get shafted as a result of the bad policies they've supported. They've created a state that simply won't be able to honor its promises to the workers the unions represent.
The French say that behind every great fortune lies a great crime. But it is also true to say that behind every great failure lies a great blunder. Late 20th century American liberalism is wrong about the way the world works. It doesn't understand cause and effect very well. It cannot feed itself. Given full power it cannot design and implement policies that advance the causes it honors. Modern American liberalism can only win Pyrrhic victories, because liberals in power take steps that advance their decline....
In the meantime, it is more than troubling that President Obama seems so unwilling to reflect on the rich experience of liberal failure in his home state. A term or two as governor of Illinois, wrestling with the consequences of liberal decadence for the constituencies he cares most about, might have prepared him for a genuinely historic role. As it is, he is running for re-election as the torchbearer-in-chief of an ideology that has long passed its prime.
Doubts about his opponents (and many of these are well justified) and the lingering nostalgia many Americans still feel for the values and institutions of the liberal past may yet enable the President to squeak out a win next month and if so, I will join his supporters in wishing him well and in prayer that God will give him the wisdom and the strength to lead the country for another four years. But at a time when the overwhelming policy failures of modern American liberalism are undermining the basic viability of three of our greatest states, it is to say the least disappointing that the President wants to nail the national colors to the mast of a sinking ship—and that he has so little to say about the comprehensive failure of the political allies among whom he launched his career.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
The Bankruptcy of Liberal Thought
A great piece by Walter Russell Mead: