Barack Obama's Election and The Looming Crisis Of Liberalism
by Charles Kadlec
November 12, 2012
What does Barack Obama’s re-election as President mean for the future of the United States and for the President’s place in history? Both liberals celebrating his electoral victory, and conservatives who fear for the future of the country, may be surprised by the thoughtful, serious and provocative answer to this question in: I Am the Change, Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism by Charles Kesler, best known as the editor of the Claremont Review of Books, but also a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and a Senior Fellow at the Claremont Institute.
Kesler brings to his analysis the perspective of the distinctive Claremont political philosophy which is grounded in the founding principles as articulated in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. But, this book is no political polemic. Rather, it is serious and nuanced analysis of the President, his political accomplishments and agenda by a true “student of the game”, and historian of American political philosophy. Although the book was published before the election, it is all the more relevant now that President Obama has been re-elected.
Kesler places Obama in the historical context of the American Progressive/liberal movement, an American political tradition more than 100 years old. Understanding that Obama’s efforts to “transform America” are not simply rooted in anti-colonialist Kenyan soil, as propounded in the movie, 2016 recognizes the full extent of Obama’s pedigree and the power of the Progressive movement. The condensed, but highly readable seminar on the evolution of political thought provided by Kesler reveals the depth to which Progressive ideas have permeated not only the political system, but also our political discourse, and in a significant way made possible Obama’s re-election in spite of the poor economy.
The first Progressive President, Woodrow Wilson, was elected for the first of two Presidential terms 100 years ago. He was the first President to openly criticize the Constitution as “time-bound and incapable of meeting modern problems due to the very spirit and institutions of government that had once been its proudest boast.” The system of checks and balances created to limit the power of the federal government needed to be pushed aside to make way for a modern government responsive to the needs of a modern society.
Wilson did not reject only the Constitution’s limits on the power of the state, he also rejected the ideas that are at the heart of the Declaration of Independence. Self-evident truths, unalienable rights endowed by our Creator, and the Founder’s understanding of human nature were, according to Wilson, mere relics of 18th century political philosophy. Individual rights had to be subservient to the needs of society.
Wilson’s first decisive contribution to modern liberalism was to invent the theory of the “living Constitution.” He applied this notion, not just to the judiciary as today, but “to the whole political system, and to the executive more than the other branches…A living constitution had to be able to evolve, to change quickly its structure and function, to expand its powers to confront society’s novel problems.” This shift to a “living Constitution” from a “limited Constitution” was a fundamental alteration of the American political system.
The second decisive contribution by Wilson to modern liberalism was the celebration of “leadership” as an essential part of American democracy. Not, of course, that the idea of “leadership” was new. But more, that the role of the president in particular was to lead the people – the masses – to a better future.
The second great Progressive President, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s attack on the Constitution was more subtle. After Wilson, America had largely turned away from Progessivism, embracing the abundant prosperity of the “Roaring Twenties” which was produced by lower tax rates and smaller government. FDR gave the Progressive movement a new start under a new label – “liberalism.” Rather than openly criticizing the Constitution, he subverted it by subverting the language of the founding documents themselves. The “liberalism” of the Founders meant liberty from government power and the primacy of the individual. FDR transformed the word to mean just the opposite: majoritarian rule and the living constitution. Liberalism now stood for a government that would “’use all of its power and resources to meet new social problems with new social controls – to insure to the average person the right to his own economic and political life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’”
According to Roosevelt, the Declaration of Independence put forward a “contract” between the “rulers” and the people. “’Under such a contract rulers are accorded power, and the people consented to that power on consideration that they be accorded certain rights.’” This formulation stands on its head the Declaration’s statement that our rights come from our Creator before government is even conceived.
Then, in 1944, Roosevelt famously announced the “Second Bill of Rights,” an astounding list of positive rights that, per force, require elevation of government control over the individual. These “rights” would help structure liberalism’s agenda for the next half century. Just to provide a flavor they included:
“The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
“The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation (emphasis added);
“The right of every (emphasis added) businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.”
“The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.”
Kesler points out Roosevelt imagined the government satisfying basic human need and desires would reduce selfishness and materialism. Instead, it led to “interest-group or social-welfare Darwinism…and helped spur the greater disillusionment to come in the 1960s.”
President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society represents the third great Progressive wave. With the liberal label firmly in place, the goal was now qualitative – to rescue liberalism from the materialism of the New Deal and to empower government to add meaning to the lives of the average person. The Great Society would end poverty and assure abundance for all. But, that was no longer enough. As Johnson explained: “’But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destination where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.’”
What followed was a cultural revolution and a fundamental change in the relationship between the people and the federal government.
The Great Society’s efforts to produce greater social equality and spiritual fulfillment bent American mores in new directions as well, though often with unanticipated and unwanted consequence. Its programs opened up American politics at the state and local level to the long arm of Washington as never before, involving the federal government in everything from the construction of city parks to the curriculum and funding of local schools. Poverty was not conquered but the spirit of self-government was. For the first time, the country adopted a thoroughgoing centralization of administration, nominally culminating in President Johnson as head of the executive branch, but in fact handing vast and hard-to-account for power to myriad experts running myriad programs in the new agencies.
The escalation of the Vietnam War and the utter failure of the Great Society to ameliorate poverty, far less deliver on its utopian promise of spiritual fulfillment, ended the third wave of liberalism. However, even as it receded, the Great Society left behind a federal government more powerful than ever. The creation of Medicare and Medicaid initiated the partial federal takeover of the medical system. Moreover, the creation of a permanent, Administrative state further reduced Constitutional limits by establishing a parallel government so vast and powerful that it has transformed Congress into gaggle of oversight committees whose members come and go even as the permanent bureaucracy expands its power whenever given the chance.
The economic malaise of the late 1970s, including the Great Inflation and record peace- time unemployment rates led to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reagan was able to restore American’s confidence in themselves, and their country, but he did it in the name of conservatism. “The liberal State endured despite President Reagan’s best efforts, but liberalism seemed a spent force.”
Kesler views President Obama as the fourth, great “liberal” President in U.S. history, writing: “whatever else he may accomplish, his staggering victory on health care reform has earned him a future place (beside Wilson, FDR and Johnson) on the Mount Rushmore of liberalism.”
Referring to Obama’s own writings and words, Kesler points out that Obama seeks to “shape” history, to mold it by changing the institutional structures of the United States in a way that will change the nation’s culture and further subordinate the liberty of the individual to the power of the state. The Supreme Court’s contorted decision finding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) Constitutional, and Obama’s re-election, which assures its implementation, will accomplish those goals.
Read more: http://goo.gl/8lkJt
A Nation Adrift
by Steve McCann
November 13, 2012
It is now an unquestionable reality that the United States is no longer the beacon of freedom and hope for all mankind. As America careens toward not only a fiscal cliff, but a societal one, theories abound as to why, including changing demographics and technology. But the answer is relatively simple: an increasing number of people in the United States, in their pursuit of lives of relative ease, have turned their backs on the basic rules of human behavior as espoused by Judeo-Christian teachings and have instead placed more and more trust in man.
The moral fiber of a country, and the religious basis upon which the United States and European nations developed, is being replaced by a misguided faith in people. Although mankind has accomplished great things, the human race has always been overwhelmingly susceptible to its base nature. The historic consequence of repudiating established moral and ethical guidelines is a society that gradually and inevitably becomes devoid of humility, honor, decency and respect for the uniqueness of all mankind.
Within that society, the governing class inexorably develops an unrestrained craving for power and self-aggrandizement which ultimately manifests itself in the subjugation of the populace--either by force or the exploitation of the primary human foibles of greed, envy and lust coupled with state control of the means of individual livelihood. The major casualty of this evolutionary process is the abandonment of God-given rights of life and liberty eventuating in a collapse or violent overthrow of the society.
In the most recent national election cycle the Democrats and the Obama re-election team, with the complicity of the media, cast aside any pretext of honor and integrity as they, utilizing today's all-encompassing media world, engaged in the most deceptive and unethical campaign in recent American history. In order to maintain their grip on power the end justified any means. Including playing on and exacerbating the fears and foibles of the populace while promoting government, controlled by the Democratic Party, as the source of salvation and survival.
The message being conveyed to an ever larger portion of a willing and susceptible American population is: there are no restraints on personal behavior and it is acceptable, using the auspices of government, to forcefully take from one group and give to another. In fact by the mere circumstance of living in America one is entitled to a livelihood and a vast panoply of rights as defined by and granted by the government.
As this mindset takes hold in any country, a calamitous cycle begins. In order to satisfy the unleashed greed and envy of more and more people and to fulfill unsustainable promises, the governing class must tax, spend and borrow at an ever-increasing rate until they can no longer borrow on the open market or tax a rapidly diminishing producer class. At that point either the nation descends into chaos or revolution or its leadership embarks on war and conquest.
Read more: http://goo.gl/TAEgf