From a piece in the Q section in the N&O yesterday:
The turning point in ideas about government was the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. It changed our character, it ended for many people the sense of optimistic self-sufficiency they had been brought up with and it turned us back from progressivism toward liberalism. Liberalism came to mean that concern for the poor is not just a sentiment, but a motivation for policy. Liberals fought for reforms that built a wall of government resources around those who were least well-off, a dam holding back a tide of poverty, ignorance, starvation and disease.
And it worked, as politics. Regardless of what you think of the New Deal, the Great Society programs of the '60s and the scores of other programs focused on social ills, they were wildly popular. The Democrats controlled the House of Representatives for decades and from 1933 to 1969 held the presidency for seven out of nine terms.
More recently, however, liberalism has stopped working. Many of the core beliefs of liberals are still present in American thought and culture, but for a politician to call herself a "liberal" is suicide in most jurisdictions. The reason is that the French sense won the war of meaning, and Americans rejected that view of political life. Doctrinaire ideologues, insisting on a particular conception of equality at the expense of liberty and on a narrow secular interpretation of the rhetorical space of public discourse, hijacked liberalism.
It was a Pyrrhic victory: In winning control of the Democratic party, they lost the confidence of voters. Liberalism was reduced to an interest group code phrase: "Vote for me, and I'll give you other people's money."
UPDATE: For those interested in "fair use" rules....