The Limits Of Muscular Government

by Conor Friedersdorf

In the LA Times, Neal Gabler complains about the left's evolution:

In the days of FDR, the Democratic Party, despite its factions and disagreements, coalesced around one overriding tenet: muscular government action, especially in behalf of the powerless. After FDR, Democratic presidential nominees Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, John Kennedy, LBJ, Hubert Humphrey and even the much-maligned George McGovern and Walter Mondale subscribed to this liberal ideal without apology. Belief in the efficacy of government was a prerequisite to gaining the nomination. Democratic aspirants didn't lurch rightward or pray for common ground. They stood and fell on principle. But that was then. The fact is that nowadays you don't get the Democratic presidential nomination unless you are willing to soft-pedal activist liberalism...

That's because sometime in the 1970s, the Democratic Party became basically an "interests" party. It stopped pressing government action as an overriding binding principle and began instead to appeal to individual interest groups: African Americans, Hispanics, women, labor, gays, youth and even Blue Dogs.

Perhaps the real reason Democrats stopped unapologetically advocating for muscular government action to solve every problem – or at least why most of them did – is that the resulting policies didn't always work. And how could they? There is no single approach to policy that comes out right every time. Liberals at their best see government performance as it is, not as ideologues wish it to be.