The American Left went half way to statism during the New Deal, which rested on the arrogant conviction that smart people were more reliable than free markets and, ultimately, free people. They went the rest of the way after the defeat of Soviet Communism. The failure of the Great Leftist Dream was so manifest, so total, that only the truest believers dared to suggest that the American dream–hard work pays off because ours is a revolutionary society of opportunity–was a mirage, and we needed a governmental hegemon to create and enforce fairness. And even though the Leftists had long since taken effective control over the academy and most of the media, they regularly failed to elect their most reliable leaders. Their statist ideology did not appeal to the American people.
Their ideas were rightly rejected: Marxism and its various offspring had failed. Nobody believed in “from each according to his ability (or work), to each according to his needs.” What was left? The desire for power, legitimized by the conviction that the New Class should make the decisions for the rest of us. They realized that, since their ideology was rejected, the best way–perhaps the only way–to win was to demonize their opponents and run as the Party of Virtue.
The old ideas were replaced with Groucho Marxism: As the great man once put it, “I’ve got principles. And if you don’t like them, I’ve got other principles.” Just vote for us because we’re superior people. We’ll do it better. It is now all about power and control, not about some new version of “socialism.” There is nothing particularly “socialistic” about the ecodoctrines now put forward by the Al Gores and Carol Browners, nor about the Pelosi/Reid health care schemes. To be sure, they call for a “redistribution of wealth,” but, as we have seen with TARP, the wealth is redistributed to political cronies. It is not so much an ideological campaign as the appropriation of wealth and arbitrary power to fund themselves and consolidate their hegemony.
As Tocqueville forecast, liberty gets tied down by an endless network of regulation, and we become enslaved without ever seeing it happen. That is because we get to vote, and console ourselves with the thought that our rulers serve US. Meanwhile, the Left has legislated (or, when that is impossible, simply ordered) the big State, and staffed it with their own.
History is replete with paradoxes, none more anguishing than the perfection of the oppressive State by people claiming to act in the name of liberty.
UPDATE: If you are interested in this subject, do not miss Ron Radosh’s extraordinary blog