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 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 3:28 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT