December 21, 2014

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Next Up in America: The Liberal Retreat.

As the United States staggers toward the seventh year of Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House, a growing disquiet permeates the ranks of the American left. After six years of the most liberal President since Jimmy Carter, the nation doesn’t seem to be asking for a second helping. Even though the multiyear rollout of Obamacare was carefully crafted to put all the popular features up front, delaying less popular changes into the far future, the program remains unpopular. Trust in the fairness and competence of government is pushing toward new lows in the polls, even though the government is now in the hands of forward-looking, progressive Democrats rather than antediluvian Gopers.

For liberals, these are bleak times of hollow victories (Obamacare) and tipping points that don’t tip. For examples of the latter, think of Sandy Hook, the horrific massacre in Connecticut that Democrats and liberals everywhere believed would finally push the American public toward gun control. Two years later, polls show more Americans than ever before think it’s more important to protect gun access than to promote gun control.

Sandy Hook isn’t the only example. There was the latest 2014 IPCC report on climate change that was going to end the debate once and for all. The chances for legislative action on climate change in the new Congress: zero or less. There was Ferguson and the Garner videotape showing the fatal chokehold, both of which set off a wave of protests but seem unlikely to change public attitudes about the police. There was the Senate Intelligence Committee “torture report” that was going to settle the issue of treatment of detainees. Again, the polls are rolling in suggesting that the public remains exactly where it was: supportive of “torture” under certain circumstances. And of course there was the blockbuster Rolling Stone article on campus rape at UVA, the story that, before it abruptly collapsed, was going to cement public support for the Obama administration’s aggressive attempt to federalize the treatment of sexual harassment on campuses around the country. . . .

Shell-shocked liberals are beginning to grasp some inconvenient truths. No gun massacre is horrible enough to change Americans’ ideas about gun control. No UN Climate Report will get a climate treaty through the U.S. Senate. No combination of anecdotal and statistical evidence will persuade Americans to end their longtime practice of giving police officers extremely wide discretion in the use of force. No “name and shame” report, however graphic, from the Senate Intelligence Committee staff will change the minds of the consistent majority of Americans who tell pollsters that they believe that torture is justifiable under at least some circumstances. No feminist campaign will convince enough voters that the presumption of innocence should not apply to those accused of rape.

It’s like Americans insist on remaining Americans.

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