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Opinion

Liberalism is gone – don't let tolerance pass with it

It may be a lifeless ideology, but even conservatives enjoy better lives because of the programs it spawned.

By Walter Rodgers / March 18, 2008



Oakton, Va.

Few dare to say it, but it's time we acknowledged a sad truth about American politics: liberalism is dead – and it has been for 40 years.

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Of course, America's conservative talk-show hosts can't admit this without facing the embarrassing fact that they have been beating a dead horse all this time. One can imagine their fervent prayer: "Dear God, we don't have Soviet Communists anymore. Please keep a few liberals for us to kick around."

As a political ideology, liberalism has been so discredited that few people even dare to call themselves liberal.

A half-century ago, the opposite was true: liberalism was the dominant, almost exclusive force in American politics.

How did this reversal happen?

As an intellectual force, political liberalism went out of office with Lyndon Johnson. Public disenchantment with LBJ's Great Society programs during the Vietnam era, muddling it together with permissive sex, drugs, and rock "n" roll, was liberalism's death knell.

America has tilted right ever since. It twice elected Republican Richard Nixon, who was then succeeded by a Midwest conservative, Gerald Ford. Though saddled with scandals, he nearly beat Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976. But President Carter was no liberal. Recall that Ted Kennedy tried – and failed – to dethrone him in 1980.

Then, two terms of Ronald Reagan plus another term of George H.W. Bush gave Americans what they wanted: 12 years of conservatism. Mr. Bush was denied a second term mostly because Ross Perot siphoned off his votes. Without Perot, there would have been no Clinton ascendancy.

But even President Clinton's two terms did little to halt liberalism's demise. Indeed, he was complicitous in the conservative effort to peel away the last layers of the New Deal and the Great Society.

In 2000, the Supreme Court anointed right-wing Republican George W. Bush as president. His two terms have driven a stake through liberalism's heart.

Today, some take hope in the popularity of Democratic contender Barack Obama. He is, after all, the most liberal member of the Senate, according to a National Journal ranking.

But today, that distinction seems as quaint as an Amish buggy poking down a Pennsylvania country road.

Any reported wave of liberalism simply cannot buck the conservative tide. Regardless of who is elected president in 2008, there seems to be little enthusiasm for liberalism.

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