Monday, 29 May 2006
The Collapse and Fall of Democratic Liberalism
"I just want to tell you this, we're in favour of a lot of things and we're against mighty few."
Lyndon B. Johnson, Providence, RI, 1964
President Johnson's reign was the high water mark of big government, European style liberalism in the United States. Johnson wanted to bring the nation closer together and to use government to banish poverty, discrimination and to forge unity; whilst destroying Communism wherever it was to be found. Civil rights were further improved (and thus resentment was bred amongst white, working class communities), Head Start was founded, as were two national educational endowment schemes and the bane of many a President: Medicare and Medicaid. An admirable welfare state was being constructed but far too quickly and without the economic safe guards in place.
On the legal front, the Warren Supreme Court gave increased and deserved civil rights to African-Americans, women, homosexuals, disabled persons and prisoners. Prayer was banned in public schools, contraception legalised, the death penalty banned and in 1973 came the legendary Roe v Wade decision.
This was a deadly and costly liberal overreach, that condemned the Democratic Party to the margins right until the Clinton years and condemned America to economic difficulties and soaring crime figures. More importantly, it planted a seed with the American people that Democrats and big government could not be trusted and further fuelled the growing conservative movement, a movement that President Richard Nixon managed to unite into a coherent force so he could eventually come to power.
Unfortunately for the conservatives, Nixon didn't follow through with the right-wing bluster that got many of them to back him in 1969 and once in power he ran an incredibly liberal administration (an admirable obsession with African-American rights, social spending outstripping military for the first time, the Clean Air Act, increased Federal regulation) that, via Watergate, also destroyed any advantage the GOP had over the Democrats as the party that could be trusted. Nixon's successor was the centrist Republican Gerald Ford ("Eisenhower without the medals") and then came the hamstrung and compromised Carter Presidency.
Thankfully, for the right that is, an ex-Hollywood actor nicknamed The Gipper and a movement called the neoconservatives were fast bearing down on power...