“Is Liberalism Exhausted?” Jonah Goldberg wondered recently at National Review, surveying a movement that seems to have run out of intellectual gas after six years of dragging Barack Obama uphill. Goldberg takes the recent round of firings and program cancellations at MSNBC as a milestone:
MSNBC had thought it could mimic Fox News’s success from the left. The problem is that it never understood what Fox News is. MSNBC’s execs saw it through the prism of their own ideological bias and so ended up offering a left-wing caricature of a caricature. Contrary to myth, Fox (where I am a contributor) is in fact an actual news network, albeit with prime-time opinion shows. Meanwhile, a study by Pew found that MSNBC was 85 percent opinion.
The more salient point is that there’s such a small appetite for that opinion. As Josh Kraushaar of National Journal recently observed, Barack Obama has successfully moved his party to the left but has failed utterly to bring the rest of the country with him. In 2012, James Stimson, arguably America’s leading expert on U.S. public opinion, found that the country was more conservative than at any time since 1952.
This might seem counterintuitive, given that Obama was reelected that year, but there’s an obvious explanation. Barack Obama has a singular skill: getting Barack Obama elected. In all the elections since 2008, he has shown a remarkable inability to get anyone else elected, or to move public opinion in his favor. (Obamacare, for instance, remains stubbornly unpopular.) Measured in terms of statehouses, state legislatures, and House and Senate seats, the GOP is stronger today than any point since the 1920s. If you still think Obama has generous coattails, ask Rahm Emanuel for a second opinion.
All true, but to quote Obama’s presumptive successor on the Democrat ticket in 2016: “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
It’s true that liberalism doesn’t have anything exciting and new to offer – even its plans for the Internet are drawn from 1930s telephone legislation – but the only thing the Left is really tired of is selling its ideas to skeptics. It’s largely given up on that effort in exchange for the use of force to impose its ideals. A good deal of this compulsion happens automatically, as the State grows relentlessly larger, and the sphere of private action correspondingly dwindles.
The difficultly of making major decisions without the approval of government grows steadily greater, with only tepid resistance from the Republican establishment. The Beltway bubble has become an impenetrable force field. Josh Kraushaar’s point about how Obama has moved the Democrats to the left, but shifted American opinion to the right, is intriguing.
I would argue that while opinion seems to have shifted rightward, the window of possible action has moved firmly to the Left, in accordance with Obama’s design. Resistance to the leftward pull has been largely rhetorical. How else to describe the 2014 midterm elections, which appear to have done virtually nothing to break the Democrats’ lock on power in Washington?
Obama’s response to that midterm drubbing was, in essence, to tell the uppity tax serfs that their pitiful little electoral temper tantrum didn’t matter, because he was going to plow ahead with doing what he thought best for the truly important constituency of people who don’t – or can’t – vote. Four months on, the Republican leadership has largely vindicated his attitude.
This is most clearly evident in the “immigration reform” debate, a breathtaking display of compulsive power quite literally intended to subjugate the American taxpayer. Legal citizens have made it abundantly clear they don’t want open borders or amnesty for illegal aliens, but they’re going to get it anyway.
The party America voted for in 2014 can’t even find a way to thwart the expenditure of our tax money on a program that not only runs contrary to the will of the voters, but has been judged contrary to the law by a federal court. Every week we learn new details about how the Administration has been implementing amnesty measures through the back door for years, slipping millions of work permits to illegal aliens under the table without the approval of Congress. The President brazenly threatened law enforcement officers who dare to enforce the law in spite of his decrees.
The result of all this, in the very near future, will be a new electorate that replaces a good number of those folks who stubbornly refused to join Obama’s march to the Left. There will be a good old-fashioned raid on taxpayers’ wallets to boot, implemented through a tax system that was, not long ago, amusingly portrayed as a system for making “New Americans” pay for the privilege of citizenship, when anyone with a drop of knowledge about the tax system understood it was far more likely that they’d be claiming cash payouts in the form of tax credits – a suspicion now confirmed by the IRS. It’s going to be pillage on a scale unknown to even the most successful Viking raiders of yore, and you won’t have one damned thing to say about it.
You, the American voter, objected to this every step of the way, in the strongest possible terms, but you were told that citizenship and immigration were simply beyond the reach of voters – the Ruling Class made those decisions in accordance with its own interests, one of which involves rebuilding the American electorate to be more friendly toward the Ruling Class. The Left (and its big-business allies) didn’t have to persuade anyone to make this happen. Instead, they set events in motion that would move the window of political possibility in their direction. Soon, an “extreme conservative” on immigration will be someone who thinks yesterday’s illegal aliens should have to sit out an election or two before they can vote.
ObamaCare is the other pre-eminent example of how America’s recoil from Obama liberalism is mostly a matter of complaints and meaningless votes, with few practical implications. Our newest and worst federal boondoggle is more firmly entrenched than the Constitution itself. Obama’s little exercise in circumventing the Second Amendment by banning ammunition demonstrates that the Bill of Rights is easier to repeal than ObamaCare. GOP leaders hasten to assure us they’ll move heaven and earth to keep ObamaCare subsidies flowing, if the Supreme Court properly holds them illegal in all but a few states.
That’s instructive because it falls so perfectly in line with the dishonest game plan laid out by ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber: strike hard and fast, build a dependent constituency with billions of improperly-distributed dollars, and it doesn’t really matter who wins elections, or what rulings the high courts hand down.
Sure, a majority of the American public has disliked ObamaCare since the moment its sugary promises condensed into hard, bitter, compulsive reality, and they’ve voted accordingly… but so what? At this point, ObamaCare defenders are losing what they see as a largely academic debate about what could have been done differently four or five years ago. The system has deep roots in dependency, a thick layer of protective bureaucratic flab, and very sharp regulatory teeth. They might be exhausted from defending it, but it doesn’t really need defending any more – it can protect itself.
The same can be said of Big Government in general. The past few years have given us a long string of embarrassing failures from the Left, and some stunning political reversals… but good luck touching a hair on the head of the monstrous creature they have incubated in Washington. You can’t cut a dollar from its budget; it requires Herculean effort just to trim the rate of its growth back a bit.
Vast amounts of power have been segregated from the parts of the government We the People get to vote on, and buried safely beneath a largely inscrutable, untouchable bureaucracy. Congressional oversight panels are now routinely deflected with outrageous lies and stonewall tactics from the agencies they nominally oversee. Information requests incubate for years before giving birth to little clouds of documents that would have been dynamite, had they been made public years ago. Nobody gets fired. No bureaucratic mission is ever completed. Few programs fail hard enough to die.
Compulsion was always the essence of “liberalism,” because compulsion is the only resource available to the State they worship. After six years of Obama, the American Left is noticeably more eager to use forceful tactics to bludgeon its critics into silence.
Debates are no longer won through either reason or poetry; they’re won by kneecapping the opposition, shouting them down, and questioning their moral standing to speak. No matter how intellectually spent a movement might be, the prospect of a wild hunt against people it hates will always motivate its troops.
A great deal of liberal “debate” these days amounts to venting hatred against despised adversaries and reveling in their misfortune, which has the useful side effect of distracting the left-wing faithful from making any tough demands of their own leadership. A party that can’t keep any promises can still nourish a twisted variety of love in its devotees by visiting misfortune upon their enemies. There’s always plenty of misfortune to dispense. It’s the one resource we’re never going to run short of.
Have two terms of Obama left us with a country more conservative than it’s been since the Fifties…. ruled by a government more liberal, and more powerful, than ever? If so, that’s a fight the hardcore Left is serenely convinced it can win. The grand unifying truth of all the issues mentioned above, and many more besides, is that the State’s power to change us now exceeds our power to change the State. The Left might be tired, but it’s not unjustified in believing that it spent its energies to secure victories that cannot easily be reversed. In a large and growing portion of American life, the time for debate, and voting, is over. It’s all about obedience and resistance now.
All of this might sound rather gloomy, but I’m actually quite optimistic about the prospects of resistance succeeding. Americans are very good at resistance. It runs in our blood.