Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Twilight of Progressivism

In the wake of the 2012 election many in the media were quick to pronounce a renascent conservatism dead in the crib. The young had rejected it in favor of the progressive and charismatic Barack Obama and conservatism may not recover for generations. The thing about the youth vote, though, is that unlike older generations, the young haven't had time to actually develop ideological allegiances. Young people are politically malleable and their support, given today, can be rescinded tomorrow if their own life experience causes them to grow disenchanted with those upon whom they once bestowed their favor.

James W. Ceaser, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, thinks something like that is happening today, and not just among the young. A lot of Americans are coming to see that the liberal progressive leaders in whom they invested their hopes are, in a word, frauds. Ceaser writes in a piece for The Federalist that liberalism is facing the distinct possibility of collapse. The bad news for conservatives is that this doesn't necessarily translate into an increase in support for them.
Liberalism’s demise was unexpected. Healthy and vigorous until just recently, liberals were confident their cherished arc of History was at last bending in their favor. They imagined they would be dancing today on their opponents’ graves. Instead, they find themselves haunted by the prospect that the dry bones of their enemies might be reassembling. Liberals are at risk of incurring not just the usual electoral setback for the president’s party in a midterm election (which is traditionally more pronounced in an incumbent’s sixth year), but also a wound that touches the heart of the Progressive project.
For those unfamiliar with ideological taxonomy, a progressive is what a liberal calls himself when the word "liberal" falls into disfavor.

Progressives have ridden the horse of social justice for a hundred years and have managed to portray opposition as opposition to justice. It's a tactic which could only fool the uninformed, but there are plenty of uninformed folks out there who vote. Younger voters are still very concerned about social justice, of course, but the reason they're growing disillusioned with progressives is the failure of progressives to fulfill their promises:
Where liberalism has crossed a threshold, however, is in its repeated incapacity to achieve, by its own favored means, its highest priorities. From the farce of “shovel-ready” projects, to the disaster of the health care roll out, to the disgrace of mismanaging the socialized medical system for veterans, all but the most ideologically blinkered of liberals—which includes most in the media and academy—must have begun to experience doubts. If the smartest president ever, in consultation with the best experts ever, endowed with the most lavish resources ever, cannot get programs to operate, then, Washington, we have a problem.

Even among millennials, one of the progressives’ core constituencies, faith in the efficacy of government to manage complex affairs has plummeted. No wonder, then, that the idea of government administration no longer fires the imagination of today’s youth. Who among the talented next generation yearns to become a GS 15 in the Department of Health and Human Services?
It was the promise of intellectual brilliance and competent, efficient, honest governance that drew the young to Barack Obama - that plus the prospect of making history by voting for the first black president. Now a lot of people are asking themselves, like the guy awakening with a headache the morning after an alcohol-fueled binge, "what was I thinking?" Film-maker Michael Moore succinctly expressed the disillusionment many on the left are feeling when he said the other day: "A hundred years from now Mr. Obama will be remembered only for being the first black president."

Actually, I'm afraid he'll be remembered for far more than that, but that'll be the one good thing he's remembered for.

Ceaser continues:
Yet the greatest problem liberalism faces today does not result from doubts about government competence, but from a slowly dawning realization that liberals are increasingly disposed to sacrifice means to ends and impartiality to social justice. The result is repressive progressivism. Progressivism was born in a spirit of creating “good government,” which preached scrupulous fidelity to law, honesty, transparency, and separation of politicking from governing.

This concern was cast aside as naïve by Franklin Roosevelt and ignored by Bill Clinton, from whom no one ever expected more. Current liberalism, however, was supposed to return to its Progressive roots, and the public took Barack Obama at his word in his promise to do so. On every count, liberalism now disregards these procedures, whether in its routine presentation of erroneous or misleading facts, its outright lies, or its suppression of information. To see how certain agencies of government, beginning with the Department of Justice, treat whistleblowers, average citizens, or members of the media reminds one ever more of the behavior of authoritarian government.
Even worse is the tolerance, even coverup, of corruption and scandal. From Fast and Furious, to Benghazi, to the IRS, to the NSA, to the VA, to the lies and deceptions surrounding Obamacare and its implementation, as well as numerous lesser crimes, this White House has been the least transparent, most scandal-plagued administration in modern memory. Domestically, it has done little to improve the economy and much to thwart job growth. Abroad, after spending much of his career criticizing George Bush's foreign policy, Mr. Obama is adopting measures which look much like those Mr. Bush employed, and he's doing so on the basis of the same authorizations he criticized Mr. Bush for relying upon.

Ceaser ends with this: For the most part, accusations of abuse and irregularity are met with denials, which almost no one believes. Far more disturbing, however, is that these excesses are now tacitly justified by the argument that such measures now operate in the service of a higher cause and are excused by the existence of an emergency. “Emergency” is not used here in the usual sense of a threat of an imminent attack or of an impending economic crisis. It refers instead to the dangerous character of the opposition and to the possibility that the opposition might win power. Whether such ideas are limited to those who lead us today or have seeped down to become part of liberalism’s core is difficult to say. Either way, the prospect is frightening. The death we should fear most is not that of an ideology but of free government itself.