The dreams of liberalism’s fathers don’t move today’s liberals. Whether in manic or depressed mode, they know liberalism’s been mugged by reality—though they dare not acknowledge it. Has Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech been overtaken, to say the least, by facts on the ground in 2012 in Benghazi? Don’t acknowledge the facts. Does all the talk about a green energy future seem empty and ridiculous? Keep talking the talk—while also taking credit for increases in oil and gas production you did nothing to make possible and that you, deep down, find distasteful. Is there a need for real tax reform? Ignore it, and just let the Bush tax cuts expire. Do decades-old programs like Social Security and Medicare need to be changed? Just attack the reforms Romney and Ryan have proposed. Roe v. Wade? Sacred scripture.
To watch Obama and Biden on stage is to watch a liberalism that has lost its nerve, a liberalism that is the enervated and excitable residue of an earlier, energetic doctrine. Mansfield saw it coming over three decades ago: “From having been the aggressive doctrine of vigorous, spirited men, liberalism has become hardly more than a trembling in the presence of illiberalism. . . . Who today is called a liberal for strength and confidence in defense of liberty?”