I was a Democrat once. At various stages of my intellectual development, I even thought I was a liberal. I was never particularly good at it, being liberal, so it required some impressive feats of ideological gymnastics. But my stubbornly innate conservatism wouldn’t allow me to shy away from a project simply because it required hard work. That should have been the first sign.
As an Army brat, I grew up with tales of bureaucratic hells and special interests entrenched beyond merit or conviction like inoperable cancer. I ruefully loved and understood that bumper sticker in my high school parking lot that read, “Government Philosophy: If it ain’t broke, fix it til it is!” I don’t recall my first encounter with the phrase “mugged by reality,” but I knew viscerally what it meant that first week at Yale when a liberal campus group promoted a debate on whether the United States should submit to the United Nations.
I had heard tales of such extreme leftism before, and I even had a few left-of-Lenin friends in my youth. They were neither representative of the world I knew nor taken particularly seriously on politics, but every community has its diversity of thought. However, between you and me, I had always thought the kind of effete, cerebral, and utopian liberalism of the Northeast was a partisan invention of Fox News. Surely, there were no worlds where such thinking was normal, let alone encouraged with extreme prejudice by serious people.
But lo and behold, Fox News had undersold the enormity of a liberalism perennially agitated by fashionable outrage — always in the politically correct argot of the tolerant classes — that comes light on solutions and heavy on unintended consequences. It opposes welfare reform for “punishing the poor,” clings to tax increases with false regard for economy, finds moral integrity in pacifism and appeasement, and is more allergic to gun rights than to preventing crime. Moreover, for the sectarians of progressivism, there seemed to be an answer for everything in government — but only with the kind of administration acceptable in Upper Manhattan coffee shops. God forbid our leaders appeal more to the kind of folks who can change a tire, have a driver’s license, or would recognize a military ID.
Still, I remember what it was like to think the world might finally change for the better after the era of George W. Bush. After all, the 43rd president of the United States came to represent everything I hated in government — fiscal irresponsibility, dishonest administration, mishandling of war, disregard for civil liberties, excessive meddling in local affairs, Katrina, spiraling debt, economic collapse — and he seemed to embody an anti-intellectual ethos that I went to Yale to escape. Not to mention how he wounded my great pride in Southern values and leadership like no commander-in-chief since Jimmy Carter.
Barack Obama was supposed to change all of this, putting the country on the path to healing and recovery and bidding the oceans to recede. I’ll admit I was highly skeptical of him from the beginning — a reticence apparently shared by the oceans — but so many of my friends, Democrat and Republican, were excited about him, that I couldn’t help but want to believe. It is such a glorious experience to be a cynical realist proven wrong.
That didn’t happen with President Obama.
The president and his allies promised a deficit halved, substantially lower unemployment, and $2,500 in family savings on healthcare premiums. Instead, the deficit has skyrocketed, unemployment remains higher than when Obama took office, and the healthcare reform bill that so gluttonously ravished our political resources has seen costs rise by $3,000 for American families. Adding insult to injury, the left is still scratching at the phantom limb of W nearly half a decade after winning unprecedented majorities in Congress and cavalierly dismissing the opposition. Whereas the Dream began with soaring rhetoric and nigh messianic purpose, Hope and Change™ has collapsed into the churlish indignation of entitled mediocrity, like an apologist for “social promotion” railing against illiteracy.