What all this suggests is that we may soon see a political landscape that will appear from the perspective of today and virtually all of American history as unrecognizably liberal. Democrats today must amass huge majorities of moderate voters in order to overcome conservatives’ numerical advantage over liberals. They must carefully wrap any proposal for activist government within the strictures of limited government, which is why Bill Clinton declared the era of big government to be over, and Obama has promised not to raise taxes for 99 percent of Americans. It’s entirely possible that, by the time today’s twentysomethings have reached middle age, these sorts of limits will cease to apply.
I am too naturally pessimistic to buy into this without reservation. But there’s no question that in some fundamental ways he is right. On social issues, conservatives are losing badly and they increasingly know it. Gay marriage is going to be legal across the nation within 20 years. We are moving toward drug legalization with shocking rapidity. Anti-immigrant politics don’t appeal to these voters. The key question revolves around economic issues. If young people are committed to building an American version of a European-style social welfare state, then I feel really optimistic about the nation’s future myself.