Liberals’ Faulty Nostalgia

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday Michael Barone took aim at The Surprising Roots of Liberal Nostalgia. “There’s a longing on the left,” he wrote,

for the golden years of the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s. Income distribution was significantly more egalitarian than it is today, and Americans had far more confidence in big government, the wisdom of our elected officials, and the ability of Keynesian spending policies to stimulate economic growth.

This nostalgia is misguided, Barone persuasively argued, not only because “the America of the past is a different country to which we can’t return,” but also because

liberals who long to return to the Midcentury Moment seem to forget that it was a time of enormous cultural uniformity that stigmatized being unmarried or unchurched or gay. The huge menu of lifestyle choices from which we can choose today was a very short menu with very few choices then.

Barone might also have mentioned that not only is the liberals’ nostalgia undermined by such glaring gaps in their memory of what America was like then but also by their current denial of what liberals were like then. Those were the days, after all, when liberals were in the forefront of the struggle to ensure that all Americans were treated without regard to their race, when to be a liberal was to be a First Amendment absolutist, or close to it.

Today, by contrast, liberals adamantly defend “race conscious” policies that treat some people better and others worse because of their race, and they are behind most of the current efforts to restrict speech. From defending the rights of Marxists and other radicals to speak their minds, they have descended to closing down campus “bake sales” that attack affirmative action with satire and ridicule. Indeed, if one could find a prominent liberal or elected Democrat today who still adheres to the old liberal principles of colorblind equality and the belief that even offensive speech should not be suppressed, he or she would merit a page not only in Barone’s admirable Almanac of American Politics but also in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

It’s hard to be nostalgic when you can’t remember anything.

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