Kesler then traces the rhetorical switch “from Progressivism to Liberalism” under Franklin Roosevelt. “Ours must be a party of liberal thought, of planned action, of enlightened international outlook, and of the greatest good to the greatest number of our citizens,” FDR declared. In practice, that meant becoming the party of big centralized government.
Roosevelt didn’t aim to simply expand government’s economic reach, although he did that with massive spending plans and programs such as Social Security. He also redefined government. Instead of protecting rights, such as the right to free speech and the right to own property, government would actually bestow rights. “Among these,” he explained in a proposed second Bill of Rights, would be:
Finally, Kesler details the high-water mark of liberalism, the Great Society.
“We’re the richest country in the world, the most powerful. We can do it all, if we’re not too greedy,” Lyndon Johnson said early in his presidency. “Man has in his possession the capacities to end war and preserve peace, to eradicate poverty and share abundance, to overcome the diseases that have afflicted the human race and permit all mankind to enjoy their promise in life on this earth.” And by “man,” LBJ meant “liberal government.”
The U.S. has been fighting a never-ending “War on Poverty” ever since, spending some $16 trillion (in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars) on means-tested welfare since 1964. Despite the spending, “poverty won,” as President Ronald Reagan quipped, “in part because instead of helping the poor, government programs ruptured the bonds holding poor families together.”
And then Kesler brings us to 2012, and the lack of liberal ideas. Take Obamacare. “President Obama’s solution to the problem of two healthcare entitlement programs quickly going bankrupt -- Medicare and Medicaid -- is to add a third?” Kesler suggests this is simply the “reflexive liberal solution to any social problem: Spend more.”
Thus Kesler ends his book on an optimistic note.
Our government has run out of money, and thus the clock must soon run out on big government liberalism. “If the people remain attached to their government and laws, and American statesmen do their part, the country may yet take the path leading up from liberalism,” he concludes.
A major test looms. Time will tell.