Gerard Alexander delivered a fine lecture at the American Enterprise Institute last evening, diagnosing a striking feature of contemporary political debate—that liberals regard conservatives as not merely wrong and wrongheaded but illegitimate, dishonest, pathological, and unworthy of being taken seriously. In this view, conservatism is not a philosophy but a conspiracy. Paul Krugman is explicit that conservative policy ideas are, by definition, lies advanced for ulterior purposes. But the assumption is implicit in the haughty rhetoric and actions of a great many liberals, including President Obama.
Gerard and his audience had many ideas about the causes of Liberal Superiority Complex. One is surely that many liberals today are also progressives. They believe that the natural course of history is the emergence of secular rationality as the true way to think about problems and of state power as the effective way to organize society along rational lines. If that is your worldview, then such things as revealed religion, cultural tradition, and the marketplace (whose outcomes are spontaneous, not rationalized) are vestiges of our primitive past, sure to be displaced by the spreading application of human reason. When liberal politicians describe themselves as “progressives,” that is not just because “liberal” has acquired unpopular connotations but because progressive is the more accurate word for their core beliefs. President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid are progressives in this sense; many recent Democratic presidential candidates were as well—John Kerry, Al Gore, and Michael Dukakis.
The grip of progressivism is probably the best explanation for the Democratic Party’s astonishing campaign to nationalize the U.S. healthcare sector by all means necessary. To attempt to enact a radical and unpopular program in a bill that includes many corrupt provisions, on a party-line vote and through a procedural trick (if the “Slaughter solution” is employed) that seems clearly unconstitutional, appears quite mad and self-defeating to the outsider. But it is not mad at all to those who think it natural and obvious and historically inevitable that the government must administer medical care. In this view, the political actor is simply holding history’s coat while it does its work. Political untidiness, even the loss of an election, are transitory considerations. The progressive mindset also explains, as more than populist demagoguery, the contempt that the proponents of ObamaCare exhibit for doctors and pharmaceutical and medical-insurance companies—for they are the practitioners of a benighted form of healthcare that is about to be swept away by a new and higher form.