It wasn’t that long ago when a Democratic politician would run away in earnest from being called a liberal.
The party faithful remembered how this political label helped destroy Michael S. Dukakis’s 1988 presidential campaign. Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, the Republican nominee, repeatedly scored huge points by bashing his Democratic opponent with terms like “Massachusetts liberal” and “card-carrying member of the ACLU.”
After Mr. Dukakis finally said he was “a liberal in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and John Kennedy” (which he wasn’t, mind you), Mr. Bush scored a huge knockout blow with this comment, “Miracle of miracles. Headlines. Read all about it. My opponent finally called himself the big ‘L,’ called himself a liberal.” He even threw in this for good measure, “The governor of Massachusetts should debate himself. It could be entertaining. The Old Left or the New Left. “
That was then, and this is now. In today’s political scene, liberal is no longer a dirty word. If anything, it’s treated with some reverence in certain states.
Take last week’s New York City mayoral election. Democrat Bill de Blasio won a massive and widely expected victory over Republican Joseph Lhota. The 49-point margin of victory was the biggest win by a non-incumbent mayoral candidate in the city’s electoral history.
To be sure, New Yorkers are overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic — by a 6-1 margin, according to most studies. Mr. de Blasio’s victory was also aided by a massive voter rejection of nearly two decades of Republican rule at City Hall — and Michael R. Bloomberg’s volatile two-term stint as a Republican and one more as an Independent.
Yet even in liberal New York, this is still a shocking political tilt.
Let’s consider Mr. de Blasio’s record. He is, quite possibly, the most left-wing mayor — and politician — ever elected in the United States. He is anti-establishment, pro-union, doesn’t trust the police, dislikes Wall Street and capitalism, and wants to soak the rich to pay for public education. This is to say nothing of his previous support for Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, various nods of appreciation from the Hollywood elite, and even his wife’s unusual past as a black writer and activist.
It’s often said that James L. Buckley’s stunning 1970 Senate victory as a Conservative Party of New York candidate was the state’s biggest electoral upset. Mr. de Blasio, who polled in either fourth or fifth place for the Democratic primary in the early going, may have just replaced William F. Buckley’s older brother in the record books.
Some New Yorkers probably voted for Mr. de Blasio because they agreed with his policies. Others probably voted for him because he was a former City Council member and public advocate. Still others may have blindly voted for him because he was the Democratic nominee — and they didn’t give a tinker’s darn about his extreme left-wing views.
Mr. de Blasio’s victory also has another important, and rather troubling, meaning. In my view, this is the rise of Democratic progressivism that many conservatives and libertarians have worried about since Barack Obama was first elected president.
This doesn’t mean the United States is suddenly turning liberal. As mentioned in my Oct. 30 column in The Washington Times, according to respected political scientist James A. Stimson, liberalism reached its lowest point in 50 years in 2012.
At the same time, it’s probably fair to say Democratic progressivism is starting to gain traction in some major cities. There’s nothing to prevent Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia or Boston from electing a similar mayoral candidate down the road. If that were to happen, it could eventually have an enormous political effect on the national scale.
How can Americans — and New Yorkers — stop the bleeding? Here are three ways.
First, free-market-oriented Republicans and Democrats in New York have to identify the potential problems the new mayor’s political and economic agenda could have on the city and country. Second, Mr. de Blasio’s progressive tendencies need to be isolated, critiqued and shunned for being out of touch with today’s economic realities. Third, U.S. voters need to reject liberal Democrats at the ballot box like there’s no tomorrow.