November 27, 2013
President Barack Obama (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
President Barack Obama (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

In September, 2012 I speculated that a clash between President Obama and the survival of liberalism would force the left to make a hard choice:

Obama is the only true man of the left to make it to the White House. Unlike his predecessors (both Democrat and Republican) he seeks to downsize America’s footprint in the world, not expand it. He looks upon the United States as responsible for many of the world’s ills, and therefore at its best when America is doing the least. He sees the economy as a fixed sum game in which, as he famously put it, you have to share the wealth. (Take from one group and give it to another.) We have never had a president as aggressively anti-business as this one.

That makes the stakes very high for the left-wing base of the Democratic Party. What if Obama can’t succeed from either a policy or a political standpoint? In other words, what if the closest we’ve had to undistilled liberalism in the White House is a failure?

A month later I wrote, “Given a choice between casting off their false idol and giving up the cult of liberalism, there is no competition. Liberals will have no compunction about dumping Obama.”

We have finally reached that point. The Obamacare debacle soon will worsen with the passing of the Dec. 1 deadline without a fully-operational Web site. The Iran deal has rocked elected Democrats’ confidence in their own spin that Obama really has the interests of Israel at heart and is a tough-minded realist when it comes to threats from rogue states. (Liberal pundits  who think only Republicans are distraught and for no good reason are about to get a rude awakening as aggressively confrontational, bipartisan sanctions bills surface.) Is liberalism to be defined by a Rube Goldberg healthcare scheme and a delusional pact with the mullahs?

Heck, no! Franklin Foer of the New Republic, bastion of what passes for sophisticated liberalism, gives the president a swift shove overboard in a piece entitled, “Obamacare’s threat to liberalism.” He writes:

Liberalism has spent the better part of the past century attempting to prove that it could competently and responsibly extend the state into new reaches of American life. With the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, the administration has badly injured that cause, confirming the worst slurs against the federal government. It has stifled bad news and fudged promises; it has failed to translate complex mechanisms of policy into plain English; it can’t even launch a damn website. What’s more, nobody responsible for the debacle has lost a job or suffered a demotion. Over time, the Affordable Care Act’s technical difficulties can be repaired. Reversing the initial impressions of government ineptitude won’t be so easy.

He makes a clever argument that the problem is too much moderation, a Clintonian preference for complication and insistence on invoking scraps of free-market economics. If only he hadn’t been so darn moderate! The pose that it is the Obama execution, not the leftist undertaking that is responsible for the bellyflop. Blame Obama; hail Hillary! (“Her challenge will be to ensure that her biggest legislative achievements—curbing carbon emissions perhaps, or expanding the Affordable Care Act—are impeccably implemented with the precision that her ancestors celebrated. She must contend with the new expectations that technology has set, with all of those devices that arrive in our hands seemingly glitch free. That’s what the Obama administration somehow failed to grasp and what liberalism requires if it ever wants to replicate its greatest victories.”)

Actually, the problem is the left’s failure to grasp an essential truth: A vision that requires perfection in execution from a mammoth federal bureaucracy, like all utopian fantasies, demands ever-elevated levels of coercion to achieve its aims and is destined to fail. Human beings, those intractable and self-possessed rascals, stubbornly refuse to be pushed and prodded in ways contrary to their own self-interest, as they have the nerve to envision. For liberals, the perfect welfare state is always over the next presidency and its failures are nothing more than personal shortcomings of the current incumbents — or of those evil Republicans who had nothing to do with the law’s passage or implementation.

In 2016 there will be a contest, if Republicans are fortunate, between big government liberalism and reform-minded governance in the personhood of a successful GOP governor. The latter aren’t anti-government, but they have achieved what Obama could no– namely a competent, popular government aware of the public sector’s limitations but also dedicated to the deliverance of necessary services in the most efficient way possible.

I don’t expect liberals to throw in the towel on liberalism, but they might consider if the liberal welfare state is too much for a “sort of God,” then perhaps it’s a bad way for mere mortals to run the country.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.