Walter Russell Mead has written a brilliant analysis of the crisis facing the progressive movement.
Meanwhile, Greenberg has not yet come to grips with the deepest and most difficult aspect of the crisis of liberal legitimacy. He roots the dangerous and corrupting special interests outside the state: with their money and their lobbying the corporations and the fat cats influence and pervert the state. But the state and its servants do not, in Greenberg's story, constitute a special interest of their own.
This is not how voters see it. For large numbers of voters the professional classes who staff the bureaucracies, foundations and policy institutes in and around government are themselves a special interest. It is not that evil plutocrats control innocent bureaucrats; many voters believe that the progressive administrative class is a social order that has its own special interests. Bureaucrats, think these voters, are like oil companies and Enron executives: they act only to protect their turf and fatten their purses.
The problem goes even deeper than hostility toward perceived featherbedding and life tenure for government workers. The professionals and administrators who make up the progressive state are seen as a hostile power with an agenda of their own that they seek to impose on the nation.
This perception, also, is rooted in truth. The progressive state has never seen its job as simply to check the excesses of the rich. It has also sought to correct the vices of the poor and to uplift the masses. From the Prohibition and eugenics movements of the early twentieth century to various improvement and uplift projects in our own day, well educated people have seen it as their simple duty to use the powers of government to make the people do what is right: to express the correct racial ideas, to eschew bad child rearing technique like corporal punishment, to eat nutritionally appropriate foods, to quit smoking, to use the right light bulbs and so on and so on.
Read the whole thing. He's spot-on. Continual failure and blundering by the government undermines the progressive vision of a powerful, benevolent ruling class. The country is sick of it.