From an upcoming editorial in U.S. News And World Report, John Leo asks, “Can liberalism survive?”
Modern liberalism, says Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel, has emptied the national narrative of its civic resources, putting religion outside the public square and creating a value-neutral “procedural republic.”
…We are seeing the bitterness of elites who wish to lead, confronted by multitudes who do not wish to follow. Liberals might one day conclude that while most Americans value autonomy, they do not want a procedural republic in which patriotism, religion, socialization, and traditional values are politically declared out of bounds. Many Americans notice that liberalism nowadays lacks a vocabulary of right and wrong, declines to discuss virtue except in snickering terms, and seems increasingly hostile to prevailing moral sentiments.It’s that last sentence that captures the frustration of those who would consider listening to a Democratic message. There is no shortage of opportunity as Republicans have, in many ways, become complacent in their electoral success. A jewel in the crown of conservatism is that voters have a sense, built up through the years, of where it comes down on issues of right and wrong, morality, and virtue. The fact that Republicans don’t always practice what modern conservatism preaches leaves them vulnerable to an effective opponent.
The problem is that the liberalism espoused by Democrats isn’t really an alternative as it has been overtaken by the pandering of the party. The quest to build a bigger tent by subsuming various interest groups has lead to a decidedly mixed core message. The principle of equal opportunity should be a natural play to “value” voters. The problems with this core plank of liberalism is that in practice it has turned out to be less about equal opportunity and more about quota and set asides. Bill Clinton understood this dynamic. His “end welfare as we know it” line played directly to core beliefs about self-reliance and hard work. We expect that the able will work and that society will help them back onto their feet when they fall.
With the murky state of liberalism today either the message of the messenger must be changed. Regardless of which occurs, unless liberalism starts taking stands on value issues it will continue its slide toward representing only those who value nothing aside from themselves.
Update: For more on the topic (via game theory) check out Paul Deignan’s Info Theory.