Reports of liberalism overthrown in 1966 (or since) are quite premature (“Liberalism Overthrown,” October 1996). The “vital center” never collapsed, rather its political defenders changed from liberals to conservatives. From Kennedy’s inauguration in 1960 to Reagan’s last budget in 1988, the federal budget increased more than tenfold, and not one entitlement or major federal program was eliminated. Indeed, the greatest expansion of federal spending happened after 1968, and the greatest explosion of federal debt occurred after 1980.
What did happen beginning in the mid-sixties was a classic role reversal. Liberalism abandoned Progressive New Dealism for New Leftism. Simultaneously the Right jettisoned Bob Taft’s principled anti-New Deal conservatism—a Republican, decentralized laissez-faire domestic government and rejection of foreign entanglements. Instead, born-again conservatism gleefully grabbed the mantle of preserving the progressive, New Deal federal welfare-warf are state.
When Reagan said he did not leave the Democrats, the Democrats left him, he spoke the truth.