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Liberalism, as we know it
By George F. Will, Published: August 31
With Americans, on average, worth less and earning less than when he was inaugurated, Barack Obama is requesting a second term by promising, or perhaps threatening, that prosperity is just around the corner if he can practice four more years of trickle-down government.
This is dubious policy, scattering borrowed money in the hope that this will fill consumers and investors with confidence. But recently Obama revealed remarkable ambitions for it when speaking in Pueblo, Colo., a pleasant place Democratic presidents should avoid.
After delivering in Pueblo what would be his last extended speech, Woodrow Wilson suffered a collapse that prefaced his disabling stroke. And in Pueblo this summer, Obama announced what should be a disqualifying aspiration.
After a delusional proclamation — General Motors “has come roaring back” — Obama said: “Now I want to do the same thing with manufacturing jobs, not just in the auto industry, but in every industry.” We have been warned.
Obama’s supposed rescue of “the auto industry” — note the definite article, “the” — is a pedal on the political organ he pumps energetically in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere. Concerning which:
He intervened to succor one of two of the U.S. auto industries. One, located in the South and elsewhere, does not have a long history of subservience to the United Auto Workers and for that reason has not needed Obama’s ministrations. He showered public money on two of three parts of the mostly Northern auto industry, the one long entangled with the UAW. He socialized the losses of GM and Chrysler. Ford was not a mendicant because it was not mismanaged.
Today, “I am GM, hear me roar” is again losing market share, and its stock, of which taxpayers own 26 percent, was trading Thursday morning at $21, below the $33 price our investor in chief paid for it and below the $53 price it would have to reach to enable taxpayers to recover the entire $49.5 billion bailout. Roaring GM’s growth is in China.
But let’s not call that outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, lest we aggravate liberalism’s current bewilderment, which is revealed in two words it dare not speak, and in a four-word phrase it will not stop speaking. The two words are both verbal flinches. One is “liberal,” the other “spend.” The phrase is “as we know it.”
Jettisoning the label “liberal” was an act not just of self-preservation, considering the damage liberals had done to the word, but also of semantic candor: The noble liberal tradition was about liberty — from oppressive kings, established churches and aristocracies. For progressives, as liberals now call themselves, liberty has value, when it has value, only instrumentally — only to the extent that it serves progress, as they restlessly redefine this over time.
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