Jonah Goldberg

The most remarkable, or certainly the least remarked on, aspect of Barack Obama's first 100 days has been the infectious arrogance of his presidency.

There's no denying that this is liberalism's greatest opportunity for wish fulfillment since at least 1964. But to listen to Democrats, the only check on their ambition is the limit of their imaginations.

"The world has changed," Sen. Charles Schumer of New York proclaimed on MSNBC. "The old Reagan philosophy that served them well politically from 1980 to about 2004 and 2006 is over. But the hard right, which still believes ... (in) traditional-values kind of arguments and strong foreign policy, all that is over."

Right. "Family values" and "strong foreign policy" belong next to the "free silver" movement in the lexicon of dead political causes.

No doubt Schumer was employing the kind of simplified shorthand one uses when everyone in the room already agrees with you. He can be forgiven for mistaking an MSNBC studio for such a milieu, but it seemed not to dawn on him that anybody watching might see it differently.

When George W. Bush was in office, we heard constantly about the poisonous nature of American polarization. For example, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg came out with a book arguing that "our nation's political landscape is now divided more deeply and more evenly than perhaps ever before." One can charitably say this was abject nonsense. Evenly divided? Maybe. But more deeply? Feh.

During the Civil War, the political landscape was so deeply divided that 600,000 Americans died. During the 1930s, labor strife and revolutionary ardor threatened the stability of the republic. In the 1960s, political assassinations, riots and bombings punctuated our political discourse.

It says something about the relationship of liberals to political power that they can overlook domestic dissent when they're at the wheel. When the GOP is in office, America is seen as hopelessly divided because dissent is the highest form of patriotism. When Democrats are in charge, the Frank Riches suddenly declare the culture war over and dismiss dissent as the scary work of the sort of cranks Obama's Department of Homeland Security needs to monitor.

If liberals thought so fondly of social peace and consensus, they would look more favorably on the 1920s and 1950s. Instead, their political idylls are the tumultuous '30s and '60s, when liberalism, if not necessarily liberals, rode high in the saddle.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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