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Champions of Leviathan

I wanted to pick up on the Wall Street Journal op-ed you flagged, Jen, written by Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. According to Kohut, “By almost every conceivable measure, Americans are less positive and more critical of their government these days. There is a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government — a dismal economy, an unhappy public, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.”

The Pew study is important and, for Democrats, alarming. Right now the pieces are in place for a massive, perhaps historic, Democratic loss in November. Beyond the mid-term elections, though, it’s worth noting just how badly liberalism itself is faring in the Age of Obama.

Mr. Obama’s election was supposed to usher in the greatest progressive period since FDR; it marked, we were told, a dramatic shift away from conservatism, which dominated national politics, more or less, for a quarter century (1980-2005). Sophisticated liberals like Sam Tanenhaus assured us that we were witnessing the “death of conservatism.” Others said we had entered a period of liberal dominance that would last for decades.

In fact, Democrats and liberals invested far too much ideological meaning in the 2008 election. This led them to overreach with their agenda, particularly (but not exclusively) on the fiscal side of things. Rather than take incremental steps to build up confidence in the government, Obama, Pelosi, and Reid pushed proposals that dramatically expanded the size, reach, and power of the state, especially on health care. The results have been the repudiation and discrediting of their agenda and of the liberal project more broadly.

So here is where things stand: At a time when confidence in government is at low ebb, the Democratic Party and modern liberalism have made themselves the proud champions of Leviathan. It will turn out, I think, to be a politically lethal mistake. And that, in turn, has presented the GOP as a party, and conservatism as a movement, with a tremendous opening. Depending on what they do with it, the New Progressive Era may end up lasting all of a year or so.

Call it one of the ironies of American history.


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