The Coming of Custodial Democracy

Commentary, September 1988.


It is by now taken for granted that the nation is about to turn to the Left in domestic policy. “Reaganism is finished, bankrupt, used up, over,” wrote Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in the Washington Post this past May. At the time he foresaw a squeaker in the November presidential election and then a liberal phase of the political cycle coming “full flood” in the early 1990’s.

Schlesinger is one of many saying roughly the same thing, although not all liberals share his anti-Reagan animus in so acute a form. The liberal conventional wisdom, as I read it, goes something like this: perhaps it is just as well that Reagan came along. We needed a breather to recognize some of the mistakes we made by the overzealous prosecution of liberal social policy in the 60’s and 70’s. But now something needs to be done about education, drugs, homelessness, children in poverty, and so forth, and that “something” must take the form of new federal programs. The American people are once again ready for “affirmative government.” And we are wiser now. This time, under Democratic leadership, we will get it right.