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What Clinton Did to the Left

He tamed them -- but their animal spirits may be returning

Jan 15, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 17 • By DAVID FRUM
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What would a revived Democratic left look like? The country has changed a lot since 1988. Foreign affairs has receded to the point of vanishing from politics. Private-sector unions count for little if anything. Gays are replacing Jews as liberalism's most important source of money. More significantly, American society has evolved in ways that give people on the left less cause to feel culturally alienated: They may still hate the American past, but it is probably less and less accurate to describe them as "anti-American" in the present tense. They have largely remade America, and they are naturally pleased with their handiwork.

But the eternal issues remain: freedom vs. statism, old moral codes vs. new ones, self-government vs. the rule of experts. Those issues divided the country -- though often in very unfamiliar and surprising forms -- through the Clinton years. They will continue to divide it in the future. Of course, the Democrats will be on the wrong side of all those issues. How wrong? That's the question that the fate of the party's left will answer.

David Frum is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.