On the economic front as well, Democrats seem to be looking more to the past than the future. The Social Security system as it exists is obviously not sustainable: There will be too few workers supporting too many retirees. It will be in good shape, some Democrats argue, until 2042, so there is no need to worry for it. But people who turn 67 in 2042 were 29-year-old workers and voters in the 2004 election. An argument that concedes that Social Security will be in trouble when they reach retirement age can hardly be expected to appeal to them. But these Democrats see no need to change a system created in 1935.
The feminist left is an important constituency within the Democratic Party. But once again most of the change it celebrates has already been achieved. Discrimination against women is prohibited, and sexual harassment punished. Abortion rights remain firmly established in law, although the number of abortions has been declining since the early 1990s.
For younger women, the grievances of feminism must seem antique. They were told as they were brought up that they were under obligations to leave the workplace to raise their children and to subordinate their own happiness to their duty to others. On the contrary, they may have resented the absence in their daily lives of their working mothers or the divorce of parents who decided to seek happiness their own way.
The evolution of liberalism from a forward-looking to a backward-looking creed is partly the result of success -- and partly a result of a failure to see where liberal ideas would lead. History does not always move in one direction, and if it seemed headed left a half-century ago, it seems headed the other way now.
An ever-larger state to protect workers may have seemed a good idea in the 1930s or 1950s, but by the 1980s it seemed clear it would strangle economic growth. Opposition to the exertion of American power looks less attractive after the fall of the Soviet empire. The advance of democracy in Latin America, East Asia and Eastern European make it clear that the United States has, on the whole, been a force for freedom and democracy. The left is left with nostalgia.