Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Why liberalism will ultimately fail

By William Bennett, CNN Contributor
updated 1:19 PM EST, Wed November 28, 2012
William Bennett says the new liberal coalition wants to rely on government rather than creating economic growth.
William Bennett says the new liberal coalition wants to rely on government rather than creating economic growth.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • William Bennett: Since Obama won, liberals think winning coalition is diverse new groups
  • He says it include gays, blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, students, single women
  • They want economic, social justice (aka entitlements); reject social unifiers like church, family
  • Bennett: Entitlement state collapses without economic growth, shared social structures

Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) -- With President Obama's re-election, many liberals believe they possess the building blocks of the winning political coalition of the future: college students, single women, gays, secularists, Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans. Liberals see here not a splintered electorate but key constituencies united by a common agenda of economic and social justice. In previous columns, I have conceded the strength of the Democrats in these quarters.

Fifty, 25, perhaps even 10 years ago, this brand of liberalism probably would have failed. But today, the country, the demographics and the culture are different. Americans are less white, less religious and less likely to get married and have families. Liberalism has adapted accordingly.

For the college student struggling with student loan debt, the single mother who can barely afford to provide for her children, the minority family in the inner city struggling to find work, liberalism offers immediate relief: subsidized student loans, national health care and entitlements for the elderly and the poor.

William Bennett
William Bennett

Rather than waiting on free markets to correct themselves and start creating wealth again, liberalism's cure is immediate, and so are the political payoffs. This explains partly why many voters feel liberals care about them more than conservatives.

For the ideologically driven -- the pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage voters and Sandra Flukes of the world (she was the Georgetown student at the center of a birth control debate this year) -- liberalism offers a slightly different relief: the rejection of the central role of mediating institutions -- like churches, families and community organizations -- in imposing moral standards to govern or regulate behavior within the state.

Politics: The new America -- What the election teaches us about ourselves

Churches and families can exist, says liberalism, so long as they exercise "soft" religion and don't force their views on the public. When they do, like in the case of the Catholic Church and contraception, it's necessary, says liberalism, for the state to step in and impart justice. This explains Obamacare's contraception mandate and why much was made over the "war on women."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Liberalism has effectively persuaded its many factions that it is uniquely qualified to meet their needs and desires, while conservatism has not. By its nature, liberalism molds to fit these times better than conservatism; conservatism is by its nature more abstract than practical, more focused on long-term considerations than short term.

Does this mean that conservatism is past its time and that liberalism is the mandate of the future?

No, it doesn't. Liberalism's continued success depends on many factors, but two in particular. First, it must paint the political alternative, conservatism, as the faction of social injustice, as anti-immigrant, anti-entitlement, anti-regulation and so on. The Obama campaign did that effectively in this election without an equally effective conservative response. One presumes that conservatives will be ready in 2016.

Second, and more important, effective state intervention of the sort liberals propose depends almost entirely on a state that is strong economically and socially. It is here that liberalism falls short in the long term. The various liberal constituencies are in fact atomized groups of individuals who are relying on government, rather than creating the economic growth or fostering the social and civic health necessary to sustain the ideal liberal state.

The future of the GOP
Jindal to GOP: Stop being the dumb party
Frum: Mandate is opinion, power is fact
Minority turnout a curveball for GOP

Whereas liberals see entitlements as the immediate response to economic injustice, many fail to realize that they alone cannot rebuild a middle class. In fact, they can have the opposite effect in the long term and insulate their recipients from upward mobility. With $16 trillion in national debt, an aging population and an already-overburdened entitlement system, the ideal liberal social welfare state can only sustain itself for so long before it collapses under its own weight. It is a lifeline attached to a slowly sinking ship.

Politics: The new American electorate arrives

Whereas liberals celebrate subsidized birth control and the unmooring of what they see as narrow-minded religious moral standards, they fail to realize the alternative that is right in front of them: out-of-wedlock birth rates that are at all-time highs and a destructive breakdown in the family unit.

Absent strong, active, character-forming institutions, like families, schools, and churches, single mothers and low-income households in many cases have no where else to turn but to the government. The problem is that liberals often confuse such allegiance with successful governing.

The liberal coalition of the future looks more like Greece, an advanced secular, social welfare state, than the idealized liberal glory days of FDR.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William Bennett.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
updated 8:25 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 1:30 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT