Is this still Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party?
Conservatives of all stripes are in the midst of an intellectual renaissance designed to chart a course out of exile and back into the White House by applying tested principles to modern policy problems. Meanwhile, Democrats have abandoned their historically principled liberalism for something perniciously illiberal.
Succumbing to the allure of the use of government force, they prefer intolerance and demagoguery to public discourse and open debate. Many on the left like to ignore conservative reforms by dismissively alleging that “this is no longer Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party.” Yet, recent Democratic calls to severely restrict economic liberty, freedom of speech, and religious expression beg the question: Is this still Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party?
In his speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, Clinton promised “a government that offers more empowerment and less entitlement” as well as one that “expands opportunity, not bureaucracy.” He admonished Democrats that “[t]here is not a program in government for every problem.”
In his first State of the Union Address, Clinton called for a cut of 100,000 positions in the federal bureaucracy, a freeze in federal government salaries, and education reform that didn’t simply spend more money. During his farewell address, he celebrated delivering a smaller, more modern, and more effective government to the country.
Would any Democrat with clout or ambition today dare echo Clinton’s famous proclamation that “the era of big government is over”?
In the age of Obama you have a difficult time finding anyone on the left who will even concede that government could be too large. This obstinance is perhaps just political maneuvering now that Republicans seem to have formed a phalanx against the ever-expanding leviathan. Yet the evidence suggests something much more ominous befalling American liberalism.
The left has reached the demarcation point to statism that F.A. Hayek predicted in The Road to Serfdom. Hayek’s contention was that individual and political freedoms are inextricably linked with economic freedom. The central planning utilized by social democracies necessarily requires illiberal state coercion. This eventually thwarts democracy and suffocates liberty—all in the name of social welfare and the common good.
The manner in which the new left disdains religious liberty and free speech is illustrative. The legal basis for the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby rested on the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which passed the House unanimously and the Senate 97-3, and was sponsored by the likes of Ted Kennedy and Chuck Schumer. In support of RFRA, Kennedy spoke of “the need to assure for all Americans for all time the right to practice their religion unencumbered by the yoke of religious tyranny.” Now the collective left denigrates Hobby Lobby’s sensible and narrow victory for religious liberty as little more than an affront to women’s access to birth control.
Individuals with religious objections to providing services to same-sex weddings are told by the left that they also lose their right to freedom of conscience when they engage in commerce.
Donating to an unpopular political cause disqualifies you from running a company.
If you don’t support affirmative action, a bloated welfare state, and open borders, you’re intrinsically racist, whether you realize it or not. Don’t even dare to discuss the root causes of poverty and crime.
In another deeply concerning move, last month 41 Senate Democrats introduced a constitutional amendment to allow Congress unlimited power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind contributions in federal elections. Such power ignores the Supreme Court’s analysis that these types of limitations “operate in an area of the most fundamental First Amendment activities” and that our Constitution “affords the broadest protection to such political expression in order to assure the unfettered interchange of ideas.”
Gone are the days when liberals championed open debate and dissent. The message has become clear: Conform or meet the full force of government power. Where state action isn’t yet viable as a means of coercion, their wrath takes the form of irrefutable epithets and public vilification.
This collectivist mentality is eradicating the American traditions of independence, self-determination, and voluntary association, leaving, as Hayek prognosticated, “a void filled by nothing but the demand for obedience and the compulsion of the individual to what is collectively decided to be good.”
In the twenty-first century, conservatism is reforming. Though it may be paved with good intentions, liberalism is embarking upon the treacherous road to tyranny.
Christian B. Corrigan is an attorney working in law & public policy in Washington, D.C.