James Ceaser wrote a much-admired article in which he explained why the modern Democratic Party can be characterized as The Stupid Party. It’s a good history of the modern Democratic Party, and I commend it to your attention. Jeffrey Schmidt has now gone one further. He contends that Prof. Ceaser was too generous and that the Democratic Party is, in fact, The Failed Party.
Certainly, as I wrote here, even those close to the Democratic Party concede that it’s a party in search of ideas. Other than being “anti-” (anti-War, anti-American, anti-Bush, anti-Israel), it’s not for much. And to the extent that it is for things, Schmidt compellingly makes the point that it’s for ideas (a) that address problems that no longer exist, or (b) that exacerbated existing problems, or (c) that cannot function within the angry nihilism that now characterizes the Democratic Party:
Professor Ceaser cites Paul Starr, who argues that no re-invention of liberalism is necessary. “[Liberals] have only to reclaim the idea of American greatness as their own.” Rediscovering their old values and standing up to the cultural left is Professor Starr’s prescription. But here, again, liberalism’s failure is not only philosophical, but practical. What exactly would it mean to resurrect the old liberalism? Dusting off FDR’s alphabet agencies (CCC, WPA, and so on)? Bulldozing more inner-city neighborhoods to erect public housing projects, as was done during the Johnson presidency? Pouring more taxpayer money into antipoverty programs? Dumping more tax dollars into nonperforming public schools? Or raising taxes — yet again — to prop up Social Security?
Government activism is at the heart of contemporary liberalism, and it is that activism that has proved wanting over the past four decades. As to a social safety net for citizens unable to care for themselves, conservatives concurred long ago with that idea.
Where liberals would be wise to recapture their past is in the foreign and defense policies of Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy. But that would require a rediscovery of American Exceptionalism and a renewed belief that America is a force for good in the world. It would take a moral foundation that rejects the Left’s excuses and rationalizations for the evil perpetrated by our enemies, and that rejects the sophistry of leftist intellectuals and opinion leaders who seek to assign at least some of the blame for those evil acts to ourselves. With the exception of a Joe Lieberman, where are the liberals who see with such moral clarity?