Moral authority entails a moral hazard: the temptation to abuse political and cultural power. Today’s liberal left conceives of itself as being on the side of all that is good, right and reasonable. It caricatures the right as racist, extremist, greedy, dishonest, fanatically religious, prone to violence–and dangerous because, through the Republican Party, it has maintained parity in the political arena. Of the 10 presidential elections since Watergate, each party won 5; and voters haven’t entrusted the Democrats with full control of government for more than two years since the Carter era.

If ordinary politics are a battle between good and evil, then winning becomes an overriding moral imperative. The end justifies the means: Journalists shade or conceal the truth in the service of a “larger truth.” Government restricts political speech in the name of promoting democracy. Administrative agencies perpetrate injustice in the name of “social justice.” That’s how IRS agents could think it was their patriotic duty to help fix an election for the party in power…

If Obama is no savior, neither is he the devil. He is but a man who, through a combination of ambition, talent, character and luck, became the central figure in the left’s crisis of authority. That crisis had been building for decades, seems to be reaching a culmination now, and will be resolved we know not how, except that we expect the process to be convulsive.

What if we’re wrong? What if the country collectively shrugs, loses interest in politics, and goes on with life? Then we really will be like China–or worse.