This is supposed to be liberalism's year. We hear it from all sources on all points of the political spectrum. A miserable and disillusioned electorate, an energized base, an opposition both confused and demoralized - the 2008 election, we're assured, is the left's to lose.
We hear talk of a transformational election, like that of FDR in 1932 and Reagan in 1980. An election that imposes a new political template across the country as a whole. Or in this case, reimposes it, since the "new" template would in fact be nothing more than another repetition of FDR's New Deal socialism and water.
Republicans appear to concur. Newt Gingrich, back from wherever it is aging revolutionaries go, has directed the GOP (following close consultations with Madame Hillary) to change its ways to match new realities. A frightened Republican leadership has duly echoed him. No alternative has been suggested. There's little to do, it seems, but prepare for the deluge, and make plans to rebuild once the inevitable retreat begins.
This contention has become so widespread that it's achieved the status of a received truth, with the danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. But there's one problem with it: if the American left is in such great shape, why are all their programs collapsing?
The left moves by distinct and separate campaigns, a remnant of its origins as a revolutionary movement during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Overriding goals exist, but progress in fulfilling them is marked by limited, precisely targeted efforts carefully mapped out and executed for a particular effect. Some last only a few months, others a year or so, some for several years. For a time, they become the focus of general effort, widely discussed in the media, on the Net, and in offices, coffee shops, and diners across the country (it's always fun seeing grassroots lefties become "experts" on topics they'd never heard of a month earlier when one of these campaigns starts rolling). The same slogans are uttered, the same factoids repeated. Often conservatives play a valuable role by debating the issue on prepared ground, responding precisely the way leftists guessed they would.
Al Gore's global warming is a perfect example, a long-term program designed to push several separate agendas -- political control, economic centralization, and the Green worldview -- under the umbrella of "saving the planet". In environmentalism alone we have had endless campaigns of this type, involving electromagnetic fields, Alar, dioxins, PCBs, acid rain, global cooling, and overpopulation all the way back to the Ur-campaign attacking DDT. The same process can be found in any field in which the left is active, including foreign policy, health care, the economy, law, race relations, and onward.
There are inevitably several such efforts going on at once, and when we look at the current batch, we find, remarkably enough, abject failure across the board.
Iraq has set the tone. The American left intended to ride the Iraq "disaster" to victory on all fronts, giving them a lock on political power unseen since the beginning of the Reagan era. That dream ended with the success of General David Petraeus's surge strategy, which rousted Al Queda in Iraq with humiliating swiftness and thoroughness. Mention of Iraq then became scarce in the media and among left-of-center politicians.
There was a flurry of excitement a few weeks ago with "failure" of the Iraqi government's effort against the Shi'ite militias in Basra and Sadr City. But it lasted only days until it became apparent that something else was going on: that government forces were in fact engaged in a "cut and reduce" strategy, in which limited objectives are taken one after the other, rather than the swift, once-and-for-all sweep characteristic of Western forces. This is a common technique in Eastern warfare (Byzantium was conquered in exactly this fashion), and one that appears to work: Moqtada al-Sadr, the chief irritant, has steadily given ground, and the recent "truce", utilizing the good offices of Iranian middlemen, was effectively dictated by the Maliki government. Iraq is one step closer to pacification, and once again unsuitable for public discussion among decent people. (The American media has consistently misread Iraqi intentions and capabilities throughout this war, discussing the government and people as if they were average Americans and events were taking place in the area around Dubuque.)
But it didn't end with Iraq. In fact, the past year has seen a general collapse of liberal programs unmatched since the 60s and one that may well be unprecedented in such a short span of time.
Global Warming was one of the more successful efforts at Green propaganda over the past decade, one that has paid a number of dividends (including financial). The science underlying warming was simplistic and badly worked out, and could not be expected to prevail for any extended period (e.g., the claim that CO2 was a major driver of global temperature, when in fact such elements as solar radiation, earth's orbital variations, and water vapor are all more important).
The facts caught up with global warming last year. It became common knowledge that the earth's temperature had remained constant since 1998, a problem compounded by a sudden drop in global temperature of nearly a degree and a half Fahrenheit. Neither development was predicted by any climate researcher's model, nor could they be made to fit any accepted warming theory. The only alternative was the desperate adaption of an argument derived from a recent scientific paper released by the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, contending that the Atlantic MultiDecadal Oscillation is holding temperatures down and will continue to do so until at least 2015. (Just in time to save the polar bears, too.) Though warming advocates will not admit it, this represents a surrender flag -- what kind of overwhelming, universal climatic determinant is overthrown by a single oceanic variation? A more convincing explanation lies in the "quiet sun" thesis -- the contention that we're moving into a lengthy period of reduced solar activity. A few more cold winters will tell the tale.
Ethanol -- in its own way an offshoot of the warming panic, ethanol represents the latest "solution" to an environmental menace. None of these have ever been made to work (past environmental problems have almost universally been solved through conventional means), and ethanol is no exception.
In short form: mandates for ethanol in gasoline to fight "global warming" and ease U.S. oil imports. The percentage of corn so used grew to one-third of last year's harvest. Coming during a shift in global agricultural markets and amid several unrelated agricultural difficulties, the ethanol mandates triggered a worldwide rise in grain prices that nearly doubled the cost of food in the U.S. and, far worse, created near-famine conditions in a number of marginal nations.
It has become clear that the entire effort is little more than a gesture -- ethanol cannot lower atmospheric CO2 (quite the contrary, according to some studies), and cannot replace any substantial amount of imported oil. But it is a gesture that threatens lives, and as such comprises a serious political scandal. The U.S. relieves famines, it does not cause them. An action that reverses this expectation is an action that will have to be answered for in the public sphere. We have not heard the last of the ethanol scandal.
The "Recession" -- like global warming, the Great Recession of 2008 is a catastrophe that has not lived up to its billing. The economy is often a winner for American liberals (somewhat mysteriously, considering their actual history of economic ineptitude). Talk of recession began last summer, in the midst of a 4.9% economic growth rate, and continued through the new year. Signs of economic distress due to loose credit policies were taken as clear evidence of the "recession's" arrival. George Soros and both Democratic candidates -- Madame Hillary in particular -- hailed it as something along the lines of the Second Coming. They were echoed by almost the entire legacy media (Particularly the AP's Jeannine Aversa, who has been awarded legendary status by NewsBusters and the Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web as the Cassandra of the third millennium. There wasn't a single dip that Aversa didn't see as a "chasm", a bad day in the market that wasn't a "nightmare", a slowdown that didn't become a "collapse". Somebody should give her a reality show.)
A classic recession was unlikely for a number of reasons: recessions are rarities during wartime. It would also be unusual for one to occur little more than five years after the last. Nor do recessions usually spring from weaknesses in a single sector. And as the year has progressed, so the specter of a full-blown recession has receded. The growth rate remains an anemic but still positive 0.6. The unemployment rate remains below average historical levels at a little over 5% The Dow Jones industrials has consistently remained in the 12,000 range, inching its way back up to 13,000.
Onlookers of such varied backgrounds as Robert J. Samuelson, Lawrence Kudlow, and John Lott agree that no recession has as yet occurred. (Though Kudlow did hedge at one point in April.) An economic slowdown is another story, one that would have served Democratic purposes admirably. But instead they played the recession card and are now stuck with it.
We could go one to other, less critical ploys: the claim for mounting American unpopularity on the international scene, which doesn't look quite so compelling with the elections of Sarkozy, Merkel, and Berlusconi. Or the very public and utterly unwarranted humiliation of Colombia and its government, which, with the exposure of Democratic ally Hugo Chavez as aggressor and terror sponsor, could very easily be turned into an issue.
This is what the GOP is running against: people who want to lose a war, who are keeping alive an environmentalist scam, who (as a byproduct of that scam) have created conditions of serious hunger across the world, and who would not mind seeing a recession in the U.S., no matter how many people it hurts.
How do you lose against a hand like this? You lose by throwing your cards down and collapsing under the table whining about being forced to play at all. That's what the GOP is doing -- it can't be described in any other way.
This paralysis is nothing new; it was more than evident in the pre-2006 GOP congress (if a single useful measure -- say, a bill addressing illegal immigration -- had been passed in 2006, the GOP would likely have not lost all those seats). Republicans have never been willing to play the political game by real-world rules. If this list of liberal felonies were extended backward -- say, to the 1960s (and what a job that would be!) -- how many of them would the left have been forced to answer for? A handful, at best. And those almost exclusively by individuals such as Ronald Reagan and the younger, vital Newt Gingrich, seldom by the GOP as a whole. Almost without exception, liberals have been allowed to take utterly obnoxious stances -- supporting the Viet Cong, abolishing DDT, undermining U.S. efforts against the Soviets -- and after they blow up, simply brush themselves off and walk away. They are never called to account, never made to explain themselves, never forced to mount a defense.
Look once again at Iraq. Liberals were wrong about the war, wrong about Al-Queda, wrong about the Iraqi people, the government, and most recently, wrong about the Shi'ite militias. And they were wrong in a way that exacted a clear price, one that undermined the efforts of their own country, encouraged its enemies, and cost the lives of many innocent bystanders. Yet no one in the political sphere (partially excepting Joe Leiberman) has challenged them on it. Both Obama and Hillary are still repeating the same nonsense about immediate, unilateral retreat, based on mythology that was never true and has been disproven a dozen times over. And they will go straight into the general election saying the exact same thing, well aware that no one will call them on it.
The American left is not made to eat its failures. This must change. The only entity capable of forcing that change is, unfortunately, the Republican Party. So the GOP must take steps: it needs to shed its invertebrate qualities and become an opposition party worthy of the name. To give up its sense of entitlement, which wrecked both George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole and will wreck John McCain if allowed half a chance. To cease expecting anybody to hand them victories, to stop running from the fight, to stop ducking the sharper aspects of politics. To start playing the political game the way it has to be played.
The Democrats deserve to hurt for the actions they take and the stances they embrace. (A simple way of doing that would be to nail both Democratic candidates on the ethanol question.) This year offers an excellent opportunity. The recent liberal record represents unusual failure, incompetence, and inhumanity, even by their customary standards. If the GOP can't make an impact with that kind of material, they'll never make an impact at all.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.