Modern medical science keeps people alive longer. Liberals hope they can do the same thing in political science: keep their dying ideas alive for just another election or two.
No, this isn’t a comment on President Barack Obama’s listless performance in the first presidential debate. It is, perhaps, an explanation for that performance; why should Obama be energetic when his ideas so decidedly aren’t?
“Today liberalism looks increasingly, well, elderly. Hard of hearing, irascible, enamored of past glories, forgetful of mistakes and promises, prone to repeat the same stories over and over,” writes Charles Kesler in his new book: I am the Change, Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism.
But Kesler predicts that real change is close at hand. “Only a rhetorician of Obama’s youth and artfulness could breathe life into the old tropes again. Even he can’t repeat the performance in 2012,” he writes.
But he’s trying. From “end tax breaks for oil companies” to “invest in renewable energy” to “hire 100,000 more teachers,” we’ve heard these ideas before: from Obama in 2008. If they were so great, why haven’t they worked (or even been tried) the last four years?
Kesler, a professor at Claremont McKenna College, traces the rise of progressivism/liberalism/progressivism (practitioners change the name each time their creed falls out of favor with voters) over the last century.
Kesler’s “change” begins with Woodrow Wilson, the first American president to explicitly repudiate the nation’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He saw himself taking the country into a brighter future. Where the Framers had been fearful of “leaders,” associating them “with factions, vice, assaults on the law, and demagoguery in general,” Wilson proclaimed his leadership, which he defined “as something peaceful, rational, and beneficent.”
Under Wilson, Kesler writes, Americans would supposedly begin moving toward complete human development. “Government’s new purpose was partly to provide the conditions for that self-development, and partly to equalize the existing, unequal condition that the capitalist economy provided to individuals and families.” A federal thumb on the scales, if you will.