Some will say liberalism was the very core of the Democrats' beloved New Deal, but they err. The liberalism of the New Deal was leavened with urban machine politics, Southern conservatism, and that wild and woolly philosophical hybrid, Western populism. The liberalism that became rampant in the Democratic Party beginning in the late 1960s drove out all other intellectual impulses. Yes, a poseur such as Jimmy Carter might make a feint toward fiscal conservatism, but he could not resist his education lobby, his environmentalists or his "minority rights" careerists. And he was most in his element lecturing Americans on their "inordinate fear of communism" and their "malaise." Today, he is just another "blame-America-first" megalomaniac.
Boy Clinton was not a lot different. His 1992 big spending plans (he called it "infrastructure") and health-care colossus were kept in check by the country's growing conservatism manifested most inescapably in the Republican ascendancy on Capitol Hill in 1994. His vaunted balanced budget was achieved at least in part by his niggardliness toward the military. His whole egotistic lifestyle was late-20th century liberalism replete with zoo sex in the office and hand-holding with visiting preachers and therapists. Then came Al Gore, and after that the football-throwing, snow-boarding, wind-surfing, bungee-jumping fantasist whose self-important huffiness over being called "French-looking" made teasing him such a delight.
At the heart of the liberal crack-up, which I first diagnosed in 1984, is the impulse to politicize everything from food to sex to happenstance -- and to moralize. The liberal of the liberal crack-up is a free-floating moralizer. Such liberals are also dramatists of the most adolescent variety. No human experience is beyond their melodrama. There is no misfortune that they will not exploit for votes. Their politics is built on a world of extremes. The conservatism of President George W. Bush, a conservatism that has been governing America for most of the past 24 years, remains to these liberals shocking, dangerous or "extremist," as they say.
The liberalism of the liberal crack-up is what is "extremist." Even a sensible idea or a fine principle is exaggerated to the point that it becomes preposterous and untenable. Thus in the last election, the perfectly sensible and tolerant solution for stable homosexual couples' legal difficulties, namely, civil unions, was not sufficient.
No conscientious liberal of 2004 will be content until the Nation adopts homosexual marriage. Nor will the good liberal accept such limitations on abortion as parental consent for minors. Naturally, the good liberal will only accept the most extreme criticism of the Iraqi war. The good liberal increasingly sees politics as a realm dominated by conspiracies and lies.
The inflamed drama of liberal politics has become too much for ordinary Americans to endure. The liberal crack-up is beyond therapy. It is history.
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