The End of Obama Liberalism as an Intellectual Movement

Over the past six months the public has watched the current liberal intellectual movement crumble as its leaders have failed to provide a tenable solution to the serious problems facing our nation. President Obama is desperately searching for a way to convince the public he should be reelected.  But his liberal ideology is no longer capable of providing effective answers to the questions of the 21st century. Today's liberalism has been reduced to an opposition movement, rather than a coherent ideological alternative to conservatism. The Democratic Party all but confirmed this notion with their latest slogan for the 2012 campaign: "Not A Republican."

When President Obama and the Democrats used the largest majority in over three decades to pass Obamacare -- despite the objections of the country -- they did so because they believed that it offered a significant solution to a problem. Though it remains unpopular with a majority of citizens, at least Obamacare was introduced as a bill, debated publicly, and signed into law. However, after being rejected by the people in 2010, modern liberalism has ceased to be a serious intellectual movement, trading gimmicks and demagoguery for substantial policy initiatives. Starting with the introduction of the Ryan budget in 2011, Democrats -- led by the president -- have disengaged from discussing ideas and negotiating legislation. Instead, emotional rhetoric has been used to mask the evidence that liberal programs offer very little substance to move the nation forward in the modern world.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner exhibited the lack of ideas coming from the Democrats when he told House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan that the administration "doesn't have a definitive solution" to the impending debt crisis, but that they do know that they "just don't like" the House Republican plan. In other words, liberals have admitted that they only have the intellectual disposition to oppose Ryan rather than providing a different way forward. Democrats have become the armchair quarterbacks of public policy. They offer criticism without a workable alternative.

Liberals have abandoned policy issues as a way to intellectually combat those who disagree with them. It was not a coincidence that the Obama administration announced a plan to force Catholic institutions to go against their consciences and pay for contraception and abortifacients just three days after the White House outlined its budget for 2013. Instead of debating budgetary reforms the country desperately needs, liberals sparked a faux debate over contraception, claiming that arguments based in both the history of the Enlightenment and the founding of the nation regarding religious freedom were actually about access to contraception in general. Liberals maintain that women who work for and attend Catholic institutions are not exercising a choice to do so. In effect, they undercut the feminist movement that for decades argued that women have the capability to make their own decisions and provide for their own lifestyles, undermining an intellectual foundation they helped to create. The entire topic of contraception was brought up without any Republican, especially the presumptive nominee, talking about birth control during the campaign.

The White House sparked a month-long, superficial debate over the Republican "War on Women" in order to distract Americans from the stunning realization that President Obama is the first president in American history to have two budgets rejected unanimously by his own party in Congress. Furthermore, Democrats have controlled the Senate for nearly six years. Yet, under Harry Reid's leadership, they have proposed a budget only once since the inauguration of President Obama and no longer even attempt to seriously negotiate a budget with Republicans. The entire discussion about the "War on Women" substantiates that modern liberalism offers no intellectual foundation for governing the United States.

The rhetoric and actions stemming from the fight over contraception might be construed as an isolated instance -- a desperate president hoping to change the narrative in a cynical attempt to be reelected. Unfortunately, it was not. When Mitt Romney appeared to secure the Republican nomination, the president, with the full support of his party, reignited the discussion of the Occupy-Wall-Street inspired tax on millionaires he named the Buffett Rule. Democrats hoped to sell it to the people as significant piece of legislation. President Obama first suggested it was needed to help reduce the deficit. When that was disproven, he then said it should be enacted in the interest of "fairness." When that fell flat the president finally maintained that the Buffett Rule was based on "an argument about how do we grow the economy in a 21st century environment."

President Obama's reasoning for the Buffett Rule changed for clear reasons. His attempt to add a special tax on the wealthy had little substance and was nothing more than an emotional ploy meant to appeal to the "Not Republican" liberal base. Rather than providing an intellectual foundation to tackle the numerous challenges the country faces, liberalism has deteriorated into a purely reactionary doctrine that hopes to win an election by demagoguing the wealthy. Liberals want to say that Mitt Romney's success makes him unelectable just eight year after nominating the billionaire John Kerry for the presidency because that's all they really have left to argue.

Over the next six months the president and his supporters are going to talk a lot about "fairness." However, do not expect them to offer a definition of the term. Vague rhetoric about their plans, just as in 2008, will be used to conceal the lack of appreciable ideas coming from the Democratic Party. When a liberal such as Obama, or Nancy Pelosi, gets precise, the electorate is rather unkind. The reason for this is clear: emotional rhetoric about the rich not paying enough in taxes only works on the envious or guilt-ridden. Ordinary Americans are neither of those things. This is why when pollsters ask the public what the wealthy should pay in taxes they choose a lower rate than the current tax code.

Liberalism used to be a movement capable of producing ideas that could be debated both publicly and in the intellectual marketplace. Though conservatives disagreed with them, liberal ideas had to be contended with through thoughtful rebuttals produced by those, in the words of the historian Gary Nash, who "engaged in study, reflection, and speculation; purveyors of ideas." Conservatives had to explain why our path was a better way forward than the left's. However, today's liberal movement offers no direction, just resistance. Modern liberals have become defined by this picture: empty chairs in a budget committee meeting that they control. Admittedly, their focus is solely on policy aimed at stirring controversy and allowing them to act as demagogues. President Obama and the current Democratic leadership have ushered in the end of liberalism as an intellectual movement because the ideas they offer are based more empty rhetoric than smart policy.

Conservatives must be wary and refuse to be pulled down into their realm of liberal inanity, even if it can be fairly funny to mock them. After all, the true unemployment rate is still in double digits and in the five minutes that it took to read this article the United States of America added 15 million dollars to the debt as we race towards a crisis. Our current problems require thoughtful solutions.

Carl Paulus, Ph.D., is a historian of American Politics and a staff assistant for the Robert Gonzalez congressional campaign in TX-14.