American liberalism has failed America in recent times. Its goals and policies unquestionably mirrored the values and benefitted the majority of the country at one period, but it became corrupted by years in power. This process led many to turn away from it as a political philosophy, and caused the growth in appeal for conservativism, culminating in today's disastrous neo-conservative Bush administration.
Liberalism came to power and blossomed as a result of conservative Republican mismanagement of the economy leading to the Great Depression. Then as now, conservative Republicans believed that government should have little or no say in the workings of the free market. So, they sat in office and did virtually nothing as people suffered, lost homes, starved, and jobs and savings disappeared. Their belief was that the economy would eventually straighten itself out on its own and that prosperity would return. But it didn't. By 1932, with the unemployment rate at nearly 25% and wages supressed, voters finally had enough of the conservatives' steadfast clinging to purist economic principle while the rest of the country suffered, and they threw the rascals out of office in a landslide.
FDR was elected President, with a huge Democratic majority. Liberalism had come of age and quickly began to exert power through huge reforms. This "New Deal" program, as FDR called it, established a wide array of government sponsored and operated programs for the benefit of poor and working Americans. Government employment/public works programs like the WPA and CCC came into being. Workers were finally given the legal right to organize labor unions to bargain and leverage themselves to obtain better pay and working conditions. The 40 hour work week and overtime pay were established. Unemployment benefits were created, as was Social Security, and welfare benefits for the poor. Conservatives shook their head in horror, screaming that the country could not afford to have the government aiding the people in that fashion. Then as now, they believed the only truly justifiable government expenditures were for the military, police, schools, and postal service. But the electorate reveled in the bonanza of benefit, hope, and opportunity the New Deal was bringing to them. And the electorate was correct. Liberal programs had found a way to help nearly everyone in the country, not just the rich and powerful. With the advent of World War II in Europe in 1939, the government began building a defense industry to cope with demand for guns, tanks, and planes by besieged Allied countries. This helped spur the economy tremendously, and, with our entry into the war in 1941, this economic activity showed exponential growth. The liberals stayed in power and all the liberal reforms were kept in place by popular demand. Liberal power had been a success, as they had truly delivered for the public.
Liberal dominance of the government and economy continued almost uninterrupted after the war, except for a brief period in the very early '50s. In the 1960s, the liberals again delivered benefit for a large segment of the country with the passage of Medicare, Medicaid, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, and many other bills. But liberals, with strong conservative urging, also involved us in the civil war in Vietnam, both sides mistakenly seeing it as making a stand against Soviet and Chinese communist expansion. This, along with several other factors, caused a split in liberal ranks which cost them the 1968 and 1972 presidential elections and led to a long decline in their power and influence.
By the 1970s, American liberals had enjoyed nearly uninterrupted control of Congress for decades. Their Congressional leadership began to become influenced and corrupted by lobbyists, special interest groups, big business, and big labor. The measures they proposed and passed did not seem to resonate so well with increasing segments of the population. This is when I believe their failing the country began. For example, in an effort to forcibly achieve integration in public schools, they instituted a wildly unpopular system of busing poor and minority students into wealthier and whiter schools, and vice versa. Though their aims may have been noble, the practice was heavy handed and impractical and led to racial disharmony and backlash. During this period the liberals also began to turn their backs on churches and the faith-based community. This population segment had always been an ally for social and racial justice in previous decades. By prohibiting the free expression of a person's religious beliefs in schools and public institutions, liberals not only deprived these people of their constitutional rights but also pushed them over to the conservative wing of the Republican Party. By trumpeting very loudly support for controversial issues like state-funded abortion and gay rights, the liberals gradually found their appeal narrowing considerably and eventually lost power to a newly dominant conservative plurality. A final liberal miscue was how liberals gradually became the anti-military party. In reaction to excesses of the Vietnam War like the My Lai massacre, congressional liberals became harsh critics of our military and wanted it pared down. This has led them to become labeled with the not-entirely-true monickers of "soft on communism" and later "soft on terrorism." But worst of all, in later years, while pandering to special interest and splinter groups, liberals (and their main organ, the Democratic Party) have apparently neglected and/or abandoned their main original constituency: Poor, needy, and working Americans. They have allowed conservative Republicans to steamroll all over these people and engage in illegal imperialistic war. This is perhaps liberalism's biggest failure.
Public disenchantment with neocon military adventurism, as well as neocon economic mismanagement, has given today's liberals an opportunity to reassert themselves. But if they ever hope to achieve massive influence again, it is vital that they get back on track to launch programs and policies beneficial not for big business or special interest groups. They MUST again deliver for the poor, needy, and working citizen. And they must stop treating the religious community as if it was a group of aliens from Mars. Liberals and churchgoers share many common social values. They pared up for many beneficial reforms in the 1950s and 1960s, and they can and MUST do so again! There are signs and faint stirrings of this activity beginning to be slowly shown by Barack Obama and a number of other Democrats. If liberals are to overcome their recent failures and return to success, it is absolutely essential this trend continues!
NEXT WEEK: WAR ON TERROR, OR WAR FOR OIL?