In the end, the progressive agenda demands that you trust the state to control economic outcomes -- an idea that is yet to be proved especially popular among Americans. Will it be? Who knows? But right now, what does seem to be growing is skepticism toward government, especially among the young. When Gallup asks about what people "think the most important problem facing this country today is," it doesn't bode well for the left that a plurality of people -- independents, Republicans and Democrats -- say it's government. Fifty-three percent of Americans claim to believe government does "too many things." (Forty percent think its powers should be expanded.) Add to this the fact that according to Gallup, a record number of Americans (42 percent) are rejecting partisan labels and identifying as political independents. Sounds as if there's a growing number of voters with a libertarian disposition -- though most would never articulate it that way.
And right now, the unpopularity and struggles of Obamacare -- the most notable political accomplishment associated with the progressive left -- make it tough to imagine any electorate signing off on another national technocratic adventure in the foreseeable future. The Obamacare debate has made it nearly impossible to do anything in Washington (a triumph for libertarian governance). Judging from the polls, the voters Rosenthal claims are turning hard left seem to be more amenable to supporting reforms that loosen, rather than expand, federal control over health care. What makes anyone believe a more progressive alternative would be popular?
But like many folks on the left, Rosenthal is forced to make a big leap. He contends that a shift on social issues and the electoral success of (a now-unpopular) Barack Obama prove that the entire progressive buffet is destined for widespread approval. Guess what. It doesn't work that way. Support for gay marriage does not mean support for unions. (Unions, one of the backbones of political progressivism, have never been less popular in practice.) Pot legalization does not mean we're ready to nationalize energy policy. And support for immigration reform doesn't mean people are prepared to "make everything owned by everybody" as a writer in Rolling Stone suggests. And though I certainly don't believe we're about to privatize Social Security, to believe that the philosophy of the electorate is on a fixed leftward arc -- which seems to be conventional wisdom these days -- is premature.