- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2001

Americans have always been divided on the question of whether government can be trusted all of the time. Patrick Henry refused to participate in the drafting of our Constitution and, when asked why, said he smelled a rat. Thomas Jefferson was willing to grant the need for a central government with real powers but couldn't abide the way in which contemporaries, like Alexander Hamilton, actually seemed drawn to governmental power.
These divisions of opinion are reflected in our Constitution itself which, after all, represents an attempt to harness the power of government on the theory that government itself ought to be limited and that those who are attracted to that power ought to be prevented from its abuse.
Our two major parties have represented these two broad views with elections often turning on the question of whether the voters believed that the pro-government party should be given a chance to solve a problem that the anti-government party was unwilling to tackle.
Put differently, the two major parties stress competing values of importance to Americans. Today, Republicans tend to support policies that maximize the freedom of the individual while Democrats tend to want to use government to advance justice for individuals and groups even if they retrict the average citizen's ability to act freely.
The problem the Democrats have faced recently is that the public has swung away from liberalism for pragmatic reasons (government programs haven't worked) and because they fear that the modern liberal delights a bit too much in telling people what is and isn't good for them. They have come to fear that today's liberals, like those George Orwell wrote about, are into power for its own sake.
Democrats have responded to this in a variety of ways. Some maintain that this view, however widely held, is simply wrong. They argue that if government solutions haven't worked, it's because they haven't gone far enough or have been undermined by special interests intent on thwarting them.
Others play semantic games to obscure the reality of what they propose or where they stand. A few years ago, there was an effort by some liberals to relabel themselves as "progressives." Now they call themselves "moderates," though this means support for partial-birth abortion and restricting free speech through McCain-Feingold.
Bill Clinton represented a merger of these plus a Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) strain that argued that public attitudes about liberalism were largely on target and that the party had to reform itself and its language. He was, in fact, a big government liberal but also a political operator and master rhetorician.
After all, it was Mr. Clinton who campaigned as a McCain-like enemy of powerful Washington lobbyists, promising in 1992 that the famous "revolving door" would be forever closed if he won. But he then dismissed the fact that two of his top aides departed the Clinton White House through that very door to high-paying lobbying jobs as excusable because "they are good people."
That statement and the attitude behind it reveals the self-image of today's liberal. They regard themselves as something special, as uniquely "good" people who deserve the right to exercise power over others because their motives are pure.
Shortly after Mr. Clinton began staffing his administration with smarties from the Harvard School of Government, Andy Ferguson, writing for Washingtonian, interviewed students in Cambridge who argued quite openly that they are better able than the rest of us to use governmental power appropriately and, because of their training and desire to devote themselves to public service, have a superior moral right to do so.
It is no secret that people who acquire power tend to forget why they have been entrusted with it. Today's Washington liberal has no problem at all in condemning the use of power governmental or otherwise by those with whom they disagree, while believing that they themselves can do no wrong.
This sort of self-righteousness is always dangerous. It can easily lead one first to demonize one's opponents and then force them down the road to the re-education camp.
And politically incorrect minorities hardly deserve consideration. In 1993, when then-Vice President Al Gore was asked about constitutional concerns regarding the Clinton tax increase, he responded by questioning his interviewer's concerns for the rights of such a small minority of taxpayers. The successful are a politically incorrect minority.
Had George W. Bush ever suggested that American liberties are not diminished by ignoring the constitutional rights of violent criminals because they represent but a small portion of our population, liberals would have had a collective stroke. But no one faulted Mr. Gore.
Democrats don't understand Republicans nor do they really wish to. But Republicans should start scrutinizing the demagoguery engaged in by today's liberals as carefully as the rantings of bigots and others who manipulate symbols not to do good but to grab, hold on to and exercise power for its own sake.

Craig Shirley is a Republican strategist and the president of Craig Shirley & Associates, a public relations and government affairs firm in Alexandria. He is also a director of the American Conservative Union.

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