For all the talk about the future of American conservatism being on the line in the wake of the last two elections in America, it’s odd to say that the future of American liberalism is on the line too; after nearly two months in office, President Obama has embarked on the most audacious and ambitious assertion of liberal policy in American history since 1965.
The programs his administration has proposed and intends to propose are staggering. Despite the fact that American is facing its gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression, President Obama has chosen to make the biggest gamble in American political history. Simply put the stakes in President Obama’s gamble not only involves his own political future and that of the Democratic Party but also that of American liberalism as a whole.
Since 1981, liberalism in America has faced a constant, relentless assault in the halls of Congress, in the media, from the pulpit, and at the grass roots level. Since 1981, liberalism has been deemed perjorative. President Bill Clinton spent his eight years in office trying to evade the liberal tag while trying to make the Democratic Party more centrist in its policies.
President Obama has changed that.
His policies must be seen as the most vigorous reassertion of liberal politics since 1965 and a bold attempt at restoring the balance of conflict between the forces of the Right and the Left which had been placed seriously out of balance since 1981.
If Obama succeeds (and there is no guarantee that he will succeed) then he will have gone a long way at restoring American liberalism as a viable and workable form of American politics; inspiring countless others to succeed him in the years to come.
If Obama fails (which in itself will be an enormous catastrophe for America) then liberalism will be destroyed and discredited forever as a legitimate form of American politics.
When considering the stakes of Obama’s wager this writer is reminded of a conversation between FDR and, I believe, Herbert Hoover (I’m not sure it was Hoover) on Inauguration Day 1933. Hoover, riding in the car alongside Roosevelt, wished FDR good luck and hoped that he would not fail. FDR allegedly remarked, “if I fail then I will be the last one,” meaning that if he failed to get America out of Depression then there was the distinct possibility that America would degenerate into revolution, anarchy, and, potentially, fascist government—a distinct possibility as evidenced by the rise of Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco.
The analogy can be applied to Obama as well. If he fails then he will be the last liberal President in American history.
Only time will tell if the gamble pays off.