Here lies bared the unexamined heart of small-l liberalism: the idea of Progress (with a very big P). The liberal faith is that history, shorn of God, is nonetheless marching irrevocably in liberalism's direction. In the minds of McGovern and his ilk, liberalism equals rationality. Therefore, while the weight of tradition, taboo and religiously inspired sentiments may slow down Progress, in the end, reason (read: liberal morals and mores) will triumph. We have seen the future and it is them. Or so they imagine.
McGovern's essay is mainly an extended critique of Bush war policy, but he pauses to chide Bush's backwardness on another issue: "The Bush administration, in an unvarnished revival of the know-nothing spirit of an earlier age, actually withheld $34 million in family-planning funds for the United Nations" because, as Colin Powell put it, the funds would allow China "to implement more effectively its program of coercive abortion." China is a country where government officials corral pregnant women, pressure them with sanctions to have abortions, and sometimes kill babies as they emerge from the womb in order to meet population targets. But to McGovern, pressuring China to reverse its coercive abortion policies is an example of unvarnished know-nothing politics. "Frankly," he sniffs, "I can't see much of a future -- for Americans or for anyone else -- in that brand of conservatism.
Well, George, look harder. The clearest rebuttal of the idea that the future belongs to liberalism is the abortion issue. The liberal myth of Progress assumes that, as the older generation, steeped in mystifying ancient religious taboos, gradually dies off, a new pro-abortion consensus would emerge as pols realized there was no profit in pro-life principles.
Instead, something remarkable and unheralded has happened. Not only is the country in general becoming more conservative in its attitudes toward abortion, but two new polls find that young people are significantly more anti-abortion than their parents' generation are.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.