by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The pejorative label “reactionary” usually ends up targeting a conservative. But Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute asks National Review Online readers to consider whether the label might work better for partisans on the left end of the political spectrum.
Certainly there is a strain of conservatism that feels an undue nostalgia for a less tolerant, less diverse, 1950s-style America. But more and more often these days, “reactionary” would better apply to those ostensible liberals who oppose virtually any change to any government program that has ever existed.
We have, for example, long been accustomed to liberal politicians opposing proposals to reform entitlement programs, but what are we to make of it when someone like Elizabeth Warren, self-appointed scourge of corporations and the 1 percent, starts to champion corporate-welfare programs like the Export-Import Bank? The mere existence of a government program seems to render it immune to criticism.
Evidence seems to make little difference. Just last month, the trustees of Social Security and Medicare released their latest report, warning that both programs were heading rapidly toward insolvency. Social Security is running roughly $27.7 trillion in the red, an increase of $1.8 trillion over last year’s number. Medicare’s total unfunded liabilities exceed $48.1 trillion, an increase of $5.2 trillion since last year’s report.
How did the Left react? Representative Sander Levin (Mich.), ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, spoke for most Democrats in claiming that “the Social Security Trustees report underscores that the program remains strong, with its long-term future presenting a manageable challenge.” Representative Xavier Beccera (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Social Security subcommittee, actually said, “The most serious near-term risk Social Security faces is the impact of four years of Republican budget cuts, which have resulted in local office closings and staff shortages, long wait times on the phone and in person, and growing backlogs of Americans waiting for their earned benefits.” Senator Bill Nelson (Fla.), who chairs the Senate Special Committee on Aging, claimed that “today, Medicare is more solvent than it was in 1965.”
Social Security was conceptualized in Bismarck’s 19th-century Prussia and introduced here in 1935. Medicare is half a century old. The world has changed a great deal since either of those programs was born, but modernizing them to reflect today’s technological and economic conditions is off the table.
Pick your issue, and liberals have become the defenders of the status quo. Education? Millions of low-income and minority students remain trapped in failing schools, but the liberal establishment, dependent on the teachers’ unions, opposes charter schools, school vouchers, and education tax credits. Obamacare? Every word has become gospel — except those unilaterally changed by the president himself.