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 10:25 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
updated 3:00 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
updated 8:57 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
updated 4:40 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
updated 10:01 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
updated 8:32 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
updated 2:05 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT