2008 marks the end of liberalism as a governing force in the same way that 1968 marked the end of liberalism as a political doctrine.
American liberals spent the '60s seeing their programs and policies collapse one after the other. The War on Crime, the War on Poverty, civil rights legislation, Vietnam, all were either unmitigated disasters or textbook examples of the law of unintended consequences. The Democrats went into the 1968 presidential election as crippled as any political party in American history, choked with failure, bereft of ideas, and facing a general uprising from their own younger elements.
The Democrats' 1968 Chicago convention marked the end of FDR-style liberalism. Media coverage revealed American liberals as incapable of controlling their own constituency, much less directing a country. As delegates cowered within the convention center, Movement rioters ran wild throughout the downtown area, fighting knock-down, drag-out battles with the police. Not a single liberal figure made any serious attempt to confront, control, or even communicate with the rioters. Little more than a decade after declaring itself the "American civic creed", liberalism was on the ropes. Instead of joining the Whigs and Know-Nothings in historical oblivion, liberalism surrendered to its internal rebels, the Democratic Party's left wing, indistinguishable in beliefs and intent from any hardcore socialist party on the international scene. In 1972, they ran one of their own, George McGovern who in 1948 had served as delegate for communist front-man Henry Wallace) for the presidency.
McGovern's defeat at the hands of Richard M. Nixon represented no real setback for the new ideology. American leftists commenced their "Long march through the institutions" using techniques developed by Marxist theoretician Antonio Gramsci to take over the media, academia, and much of the bureaucracy. Political liberalism, due in large part to its control over massive urban machines, many of then going back to the days of Tammany, continued as a kind of husk animated by the new leftist persona. But liberalism in the traditional sense existed only in the minds of the naive, the ill-informed, and terminally nostalgic.
Followers of the mutant ideology were in no way open with their agenda. Instead they operated under the cover of two pretenses -- superior governance and high morality. Liberals presented themselves as technocrats with a clearer understanding of policy and governance than the opposition. Pragmatism was their creed, results their only criteria. Utilizing the old gimmicks of constituent services and favors and the new ones of planning and centralization, liberalism was able to maintain its dominance in backward and desperate areas of the country such as the Northeast and Upper Midwest.
The claim to higher morality was more inchoate, a kind of luminous abstraction beyond the grasp of money-grubbing Republicans, clearly understandable only by liberals themselves. Liberals claimed a monopoly on compassion, decency, and social justice (as defined by themselves), posing as the sole defenders of civic virtue against a horde of backwoodsmen, racists, and religious fanatics.
This elaborate double imposture served to keep liberalism alive for over three decades in the absence of ideas, doctrine, and serious accomplishments. But 2008 has brought the charade to an end. Events this year have exposed, once and for all, in a way that cannot be denied, elided, or spun, Democratic liberals as the party of abject incompetence and institutionalized corruption.
Eliot Spitzer worked his way to the governorship of New York State as the living embodiment of liberal higher morality, crusading against a series of dubious financial and corporate villains. His downfall as the result of a prostitution scheme too moronic for fiction might be taken as evidence of personal failings and no more were it not for the fact that his replacement, David A. Paterson, confessed to similar activities as the first official act of his administration. (If not even more egregious -- no one, after all, has accused Spitzer of trading jobs for sexual favors).
We need only add James McGreevey, ousted in 2004 from New Jersey's governorship for homosexual escapades with an aide (apppointed to a homeland security job with the state for which he had no qualifications), to conclude that liberalism has subsided to a level of corruption of European dimensions.
It's often overlooked -- thanks in large part to the Clinton "legacy" -- that such misbehavior is almost always accompanied by corruption in other spheres. Insistence by Clinton's defenders that his various lady troubles were "personal matters" succeeded in obscuring the moral connection between Big Bill's follies and the endless bribes, kickbacks, suicides, illegal mass firings, and vanishing files that made the "most ethical administration in history" so entertaining to watch.
So it needs restating as a simple truth that a man who cannot control his sexual impulses is unlikely to succeed in more complex matters. In little over a year, Spitzer threw away the goodwill engendered by his landslide victory through a series of petty conspiracies and dirty tricks, bringing New York state government to a standstill in the process. While McGreevey was a better governor than he's ever likely to get credit for (he solved the longstanding auto-insurance "crisis" that made New Jersey a laughingstock for half a dozen previous administrations), his penchant for putting his muscle boys on the state payroll undercuts any other claims for his record. The same can be said for Paterson. Though, being both blind and black, he may likely survive, revelations concerning his practice of awarding jobs and positions don't bode well for the future.
These men are clearly representative of the post-Clinton Democratic Party. They set out to follow in Bill's footsteps, have ended up much the same as he did, and have dragged their party and political doctrine along with them. (At this point somebody will bring up the names Foley and Craig. But neither stood anywhere near the center of American conservatism in the way that the Northeastern governors do with liberalism as a matter of course. Foley and Craig were rotten apples. With the Democrats, it's the whole barrel.)
In turning to the presidential campaign, we need do no more than mention Madame Hillary. The Ma Barker of Little Rock is in a class by herself when it comes to political iniquity (not to mention dodging snipers). The chief puzzle concerning Hillary is how, being so blatantly what she is, she succeeds in holding onto any support whatsoever. There's a process in quantum mechanics called "renormalization", in which certain quantities with values of infinity are arbitrarily dropped back to a more manageable "zero" for the sake of solving the equation. This encapsulates Hillary's political career: truly mindboggling levels of corruption and ineptitude have been continually renormalized by fellow politicians and the media to enable her to survive. These people made a particular type of bargain when they bent the rules for Hillary. Now the ground is opening up under their feet. It has been a pleasure to watch.
(The question I have about Hillary that's least likely to be answered is this: what did she do to Daniel P. Moynihan? Recall the staged ceremony in which Moynihan handed the mantle of senator over to Hillary. Here was one of the greatest minds of recent American politics, possibly liberalism's last political intellectual, a tower of strength, who for years answered the mad dogs of the UN General Assembly in the only tones they understood, standing beside Hillary, staring at the ground before him, face a mask of shame and self-disgust, and answering in monosyllables. What possible explanation can there be for this?) Barack Obama was supposed to be another matter. Obama has ascended on a cloud of pure moral superiority and nothing else. That has now evaporated, thanks to impolitic comments from his wife and the news that he has for two decades belonged to what amounts to a racist cult. Obama has nothing else to offer in the way of experience or achievements. Beyond his current difficulties, there lie his continuing and as yet unexplained entanglement with Tony Rezko (He barely knew the man, he insists. All he did was show Rezko his new house before closing. I always clear major purchases with people I scarcely know, don't you?), along with pending revelations concerning his relationship with Bill Ayers, a former terrorist who began his career as one of the driving forces of the Weather Underground.
Obama's response, his "Kennedyesque" speech on race, was in fact purely Clintonian in that it attempted to transform his failings into virtues while placing the blame on the country as a whole. (Not to mention his innocent typical white grandmother.) In less than two weeks, Obama has succeeded in lowering himself to the same level as Madame Hillary. Quite an achievement.
(As for Obama's claims to be a necessary "racial reconciliator", this reconciliation has in fact been going on since the end of segregation, quite successfully too. As is often the case with liberals, Obama is offering a solution to a problem that is solving itself.)
To this gallery we can add Jennifer Granholm, who assured that Michigan's current slide was as drastic and damaging as possible, Ed Rendell, Hillary's consigliere for Pennsylvania, John Murtha, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Kwame Kilpatrick, charged with perjury, obstruction of justice, and malfeasance in office. That's the Democratic Party, the bastion of American liberalism, as it stands. A party whose entire leadership cadre, including presidential candidates, state governors, and Congressional leaders, are corrupt or incompetent or both, a party more suitable to ruling a Balkan or Central African peapatch than the world's reigning superpower.
2008 is being promoted as the year of the Democrats. Under the circumstances, it's difficult to see this as anything but media hype. Weak as the Republicans may be, they do boast such figures as Schwarzenegger, Jindal, Crist, and Coburn among many others, not to mention a presidential candidate who, whatever his drawbacks, is a different order of being than the opposition.
But there have been danger signs. In the past few years, we've seen a number of "conservative" politicians who have adapted the liberal style, masking their own flaws with acceptable rhetoric. The latest of these is Mike Huckabee, who presented himself as a conservative messiah while governing Arkansas like... well, like a typical governor of Arkansas. Liberalism has demonstrated that these tactics lead nowhere. We must be careful not to succumb.
Liberalism will stagger on. It still has control of all those urban political machines, along with the unions and bureaucracies. But it has no future. Personality cults and ideology will take you only so far. We may yet live to see this albatross removed from the nation's back.J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.