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Friday, April 04, 2008

Now is the moment to put an end to our contempt for liberalism

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When Liberalism's Moment Ended
By E. J. Dionne Jr. Friday, April 4, 2008; Page A23

From the death of John F. Kennedy in November 1963 until the congressional elections of November 1966, liberals were triumphant, and what they did changed the world. Civil rights and voting rights, Medicare and Medicaid, clean air and clean water legislation, Head Start, the Job Corps and federal aid to schools had their roots in the liberal wave that began to ebb when Lyndon Johnson's Democrats suffered broad losses in the 1966 voting. The decline that 1966 signaled was sealed after April 4, 1968.

Liberals themselves share blame for the waning of their movement. Just because right-wing politicians used "law and order" as a code for race did not mean that concern about crime was illegitimate. On the contrary, the country was in the opening stages of a serious crime wave and had good reason to worry about rising violence...

The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the ensuing riots that engulfed the nation's capital and big cities across the country signaled the collapse of liberal hopes in a smoky haze of self-doubt and despair. Conservatives, on the run for much of the decade, found a broad new audience for their warnings against the disorders and disruptions bred by reform...

For decades before the 1960s, conservatism was held in contempt by large swaths of the intellectual and political class. It was one of the great achievements of William F. Buckley Jr., whose death we mourned a few weeks ago, to insist that respect be paid to the great tradition whose cause he championed.

Now is the moment to put an end to our contempt for liberalism. There was business left unfinished on that fateful day in 1968, and it is time to take it up again.

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