From today’s Wall Street Journal: Joe Biden and the Slow Death of Liberalism by Barton Swaim.
The point here is not to disparage liberalism. It is to point out that liberalism in America achieved the last of its great aims a half-century ago. Since then, liberal successes have steadily diminished in importance. The Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972 empowered state and federal governments to alleviate pollution. In 1979 Jimmy Carter signed legislation creating the Education Department, but its function has never been clear. In 1996 Bill Clinton signed a monumental welfare-reform law, but its purpose was to curb liberalism’s excesses, not to further its aims. Then there was the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a nonradical version of a radical idea that managed to make an expensive and confusing system even more expensive and confusing.
Whatever the merits of these laws, none compares, in sheer transformative effect, with the great reforms of the first half of the last century: the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the Tennessee Valley Authority Act of 1933, the Social Security Act of 1935.
It’s not the fault of America’s Democrats that they’ve run out of ideas. Liberal democracies and center-left parties across Europe have reached a similar stasis. But stasis is itself the problem, because liberalism is a restless philosophy. It must always be doing something. To rest, or to express satisfaction with the state of things, is to become conservative. Hence liberals’ tenacious belief that “fascism” still threatens the republic, and that racism still blights it.
One of the greatest headwinds to the future of progressivism in their success in the past. Bureaucracies created to solve problems from a half century ago seek smaller and smaller dragons to slay and in doing so intrude into more and more portions of our life. To acknowledge their past success requires them to protect the institutions they created (acting conservatively) , but the radical element requires change for its own sake.
The left learned to respect the power of government during their control of the economy during WWI and WWII and sought to use that same power to further the cause of social justice, but wars end and the country returns to a different footing. The battles of social justice go on forever and becomes a permanent war footing with a similar economic outcome.
The founders understood a permanent war footing would bankrupt a nation. The moral equivalent of war will do the same; no nation can survive a permanent war footing.