Why liberals can't govern

In 2006, as the George W. Bush administration was lurching toward repudiation in the midterm elections, political scientist Alan Wolfe blamed conservatism itself for Bush’s failures. His widely discussed essay, “Why Conservatives Can’t Govern,” argued that conservatives fail at governance because they are in “the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions—indeed, whose very existence—they believe to be illegitimate.”

This argument, whether sound or dubious, does invite us to generalize from Obama’s failures to the broader liberal project. In the wake of the Obamacare’s website belly flop, columnist E.J. Dionne wrote, “There’s a lesson here that liberals apparently need to learn over and over: Good intentions without proper administration can undermine even the most noble of goals.”

How is it possible that grownups, ostensibly dedicated to the proposition that government can solve problems, must learn such an elementary lesson over and over? One explanation for this anomaly is that liberals are, regarding any social ill, adamant that government do something, but unconcerned about whether it accomplishes anything.