Originally published by Salon on March 31, 1997.
As a man who helped to create the radical New Left in the ’60s and became a conservative in the ’90s, I am often asked to explain how it is possible to make such a 180-degree turn. I have tried to answer this in 450 pages, in my autobiography, “Radical Son.” But there is a short answer as well, one I think most Americans can understand from recent political events and the 180-degree turn taken by our own president.
Bill Clinton began his presidency as a liberal of the left, proposing, via his health-care plan, a government takeover of one-sixth of the American economy. But after the Democrats were trounced in the 1994 congressional elections, he announced that “the era of big government is over,” and he was forced to act on his pledge to “end welfare as we know it.” These two propositions, of course, were pillars of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” and they were adopted by Clinton because American voters insisted on them. They, like Clinton, had once supported big government welfare programs; now they see how they have failed. They’ve become believers in Gingrich’s “Contract,” even if they don’t realize it. Here then is my short answer: I abandoned the agendas of the left because they do not work. Socialism, big government and economic redistribution have proven disastrous to the very people for whom the left propose to dispense justice.
I still believe in the liberation of blacks, minorities and the poor, as I did in the 1960s. Only now I believe in their liberation from the chains of liberalism and the welfare state — from permanent dependence on government handouts, from perverse incentives to bear children out of wedlock, from inverted ethics that imply it is better to receive than to give, and worse — to receive without reciprocity or responsibility and, above all, without work. Liberalism teaches those who have fallen behind in the economic scramble to blame others for their failure. This attitude stimulates juices of resentment and deprives its holders of the power to change their condition. On the racial front, liberalism insists on government-ordered preferences, thus delivering the message to minorities that they cannot compete unless the system is rigged. This reinforces the sense of group inferiority, which is the essence of racism.
Liberalism proposes double standards of intellectual, moral and professional competence, teaching minorities that they can get away with less. Liberalism is a crippling philosophy for those it claims to help and a not-so-subtle expression of racial arrogance on the part of those who push its policies. No one is responsible under liberalism. Something called “society” is the root of all evil. If a criminal strikes, “society” is the root cause of his wickedness; if a person is poor, “society” has made him so. If conservatives seek to hold anyone responsible for their condition, it is out of a mean-spirited impulse to blame the victim. How could there possibly be all this opportunity and justice for all that conservatives claim when America is saturated with racism and oppression?
I used to believe all this, but then I embraced a worldview that I have recently come to call the Oseola McCarty principle.