Bill Bennett's recent CNN editorial, "Why liberalism will ultimately fail," acknowledges a popular verdict on the 2012 presidential election and analysis of results: The Republican Party has a problem, and the Democrats have cashed in on the needs of what Romney referred to as the "47 percent." I would go even further here than he did to say that every American -- directly or indirectly -- lives with or near, knows, and/or works with people who attend college, are single women, are gay, are secularists, are Hispanics, and are African- and Asian-Americans. (Of course, Bennett excluded other demographic groups who need health care, are elderly, or are poor). It's much easier to frame the issue if the truth is avoided: All Americans need the goods, services, and policies that government provides -- all 100 percent. And no amount of ideology-speak should shake the fundamental truth of that statement. We just need to work harder to make sure that our governments do not basically lead along the path to becoming a failed nation of failed states and cities.
Bennett predicts by article's end that "liberalism" will face its reckoning with our $16 trillion debt, a level that will not enable the national government to continue subsidizing what he terms "subsidized birth control," "entitlements" and an America that is "less white, less religious, and less likely to get married and have families." The United States is big Greece to Europe's little Greece it seems.
His prescription, tiresomely elaborated every so often elsewhere, is "strong, active, character-forming institutions" and "waiting on free markets to correct themselves and start creating wealth again." Somehow, these good old-fashioned values and institutions are going to arrest out-of wedlock birthrates, the breakdown of "the family unit," and restore prudent attention to "long-term considerations" rather than "immediate... political payoffs."
Bennett's intellectual face for Romney's post-election apologia is no less past it than its recent national mouthpiece, but Bennett is on to something far more important to talk about than "liberals or conservatives"-speak, which is really code for Democrats and Republicans. And it's far more important to talk about it than to debate the marginal relevance of Bennett's soft but reactionary political theorizing.
The political technology of liberalism, which values both free markets and state intervention, more or less, now, then, and always, is common to Democrats and Republicans of nearly all stripes, but neither party is doing a very good job of using it to cure our national ills and position us for ongoing advancement, growth, and peace. All corners prefer to be reelected above all else. The public is pretty much equally divided about the kind of liberal we want to see elected and/or reelected, be (s)he Democrat or Republican. That's a recipe for state failure more important to call out than trumping up our partisan differences, or the gradual evolution of our national culture, an evolution that mirrors change in many other advanced nations. (The analysis would suggest we're still stolidly Puritan and conservative, lagging behind the civilizational norm in this regard.)
The mantra of the day is bipartisanship, but what our system of politics requires is more competition -- and the public to make some real decisions. Unfortunately, through a seemingly never-ending do-si-do of electioneering and political pandering, as well as general patronization, we Americans prefer divided government, which means do-too-little-too-late government if it means government that does anything much at all. We prefer to elect Democrats and Republicans who are going to honor our pretensions that every cliff is avoidable, that all reckonings that reach ourselves (as opposed to external enemies of freedom) are forever postpone-able, and that our only enemies are real choices that we would do so much better to stave off indefinitely.
And there are plenty of excuses and reasons to keep doing so, at least according to the nostrums that fill our television, radio, newspaper and Internet waves.
We will never have better government until we decide to undo divided government. And the best thing that pundits and the media can do to hasten this process is to stop patronizing the same-old tired illusions that govern much of our political discussion -- beginning with the idea that our political ills turn on a real, potent and vitally important debate between "liberals" and "conservatives." America has been so much more than that -- and for over two hundred years. We should stop pretending otherwise and rise to the need for real choices.