(This is a joint post by Douglas and Cato)
If there is one thing that you can say about the Bush Administration with absolute certainty, it was absolutely catastrophic for American liberalism.
It began with the closest presidential election in the history of the United States, with George W. Bush “winning” Florida’s crucial electoral votes by just 537 votes. In the face of such a questionable election, liberals decided to direct their ire towards Ralph Nader for having the temerity to participate in a free and democratic election, stating that the 97,000 votes that he received in the state were to blame for handing the Republicans the presidency; more so, apparently, than the 200,000-plus Democrats who voted for Bush in Florida.
The terrorist attacks on September 11th and the resulting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined with an increasingly reactionary domestic policy, capped off by aggressively gigantic tax cuts for the wealthy and a Medicare drug plan that was a massive giveaway to drug companies, to put liberals into a defensive crouch. An unprecedented midterm loss in 2002, driven largely by nationalist sentiment stirred up in the wake of 9/11, was compounded by another questionable loss to Bush in 2004. While liberals were able to head off some catastrophes, like defeating Bush’s effort to privatize Social Security immediately after he won re-election, the story of his administration is largely one of traumatizing defeat for liberals in a way that had not happened in modern American politics.
In the face of this kind of demoralizing defeat, liberals sought a surcease to their feelings of loss in media and culture. Two programs, in particular, stick out as enduring symbols of that era of retreat.