Why The Right Has Been On The Rise And The Left Has Been In Decline Over The Last 25 Years
Like a lot of political junkies — and apparently Robert Reich, I find America’s move to the right, particularly over the last 25 years to be fascinating. Here’s the gist of Reich’s take
“Then something quite strange happened. “Nearly everyone has a conversion story to tell — how their dad had been a union steelworker and a stalwart Democrat, but how all their brothers and sisters started voting Republican; or how their cousin gave up on Methodism and started going to the Pentecostal church out on the edge of town; or how they themselves just got so sick of being scolded for eating meat or for wearing clothes emblazoned with the State U’s Indian mascot that one day Fox News [an unabashedly right-wing TV network] started to seem ‘fair and balanced’ to them after all.”
The heartland of America was in revolt against elites who wanted to impose their own cultural values — who, in Frank’s words, “commit endless acts of hubris, sucking down lattes, driving ostentatious European cars, and trying to reform the world.” A great burst of righteous indignation focused on God, guns, and gays. The official platform of the Kansas state Republican party for 1998 was a jeremiad against abortion, homosexuality, gun control, and evolution (“a theory, not a fact”), warning that “[t]he signs of a degenerating society are all around us.” The following year the Kansas state board of education voted to delete all references to evolution and the age of the earth from the state’s science standards. When Senator Bob Dole resigned his Senate seat to run for president, Kansas elected born-again Sam Brownback, making the Kansas delegation to Congress 100 percent anti-abortion.
Frank doesn’t dwell on it, but the same revolt happened all over America, starting in the late 1980s and early 90s. The heartland (which came to be known, after the 2000 election, as “red America,” comprising states whose residents had voted for George W. and appeared on standard electoral maps as bright red) was fed up with being dictated to by supposed east- and west-coast elites (“blue America”). Small towns, the alleged custodians of “family values,” didn’t want to be pushed around by urban centers (inhabitants of large cities voted for Al Gore by a 71 percent to 26 percent margin, while small towns and rural areas voted for Bush by 59 to 38 percent). Across America, right-wing radio personalities, such as Rush Limbaugh, and TV pundits, like Bill O’Reilly and his conservative colleagues at Fox News, filled the airwaves with diatribes against coastal media (Hollywood, the major TV networks, The New York Times); America’s great coastal universities, especially the Ivy League; and intrusive government bureaucrats, snobby professionals, and Washington do-gooders (the American Civil Liberties Union, trial lawyers, environmentalists).
As Frank emphasizes, the backlash has been cultural rather than economic.
So in Reich’s view, the movement to the right has been largely cultural. I think that’s correct — at least in part. But, the cultural revolution hasn’t taken place in America per se, it has taken place in the Democratic Party itself.
Remember that at one time, men like Ronald Reagan, Phil Graham, Trent Lott, & Jessie Helms all used to be at home in the Democratic Party. But as Ronald Reagan put it,
“I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. It left me.”
And truth be told, it’s very easy to see why he said that. Since the sixties, the Democratic Party has radically moved to the left and not just cultural issues, but on national security. Liberals may not want to acknowledge it, but the left-wing elite that runs the Democrat party today holds a lot of views that their own party members would have found abhorrent 40 years ago.
Today’s Democratic Party is the home of people who believe in: gay marriage, government funded abortion on demand, ceding much of US sovereignty to the UN, crippling the US economy with Kyoto, taking guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens, legalizing drugs, Reparations, Affirmative Action, giving felons the right to vote, coddling criminals, attacking Christianity at every opportunity, & weakening our military and intelligence services.
The Democratic elite, people like John Kerry, Al Sharpton, Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, John Edwards, Michael Moore, Nancy Pelosi, Jessie Jackson, etc, might have a lot in common on economic issues with Democrats who came along before McGovern ruined the party, FDR, Truman, Kennedy, etc, but they’re way, way, to their left on social issues and national security.
That’s often masked because as Ann Coulter has said…
“The common wisdom holds that “both parties” have to appeal to the extremes during the primary and then move to the center for the general election. To the contrary, both parties run for office as conservatives. Once they have fooled the voters and are safely in office, Republicans sometimes double-cross the voters. Democrats always do.”
…but it’s true nevertheless.
Furthermore, the conservative movement hasn’t stood still as the Democrats have drifted ever leftward. Reagan, who was far more conservative than his predecessors like Ford and Nixon, or those who came after him like Bush 41 and Bush 43, had an enormously successful Presidency. Reagan’s success proved without a doubt that conservatism works.
I’d also have to give a lot of credit for conservatism’s growth to Rush Limbaugh for explaining conservative principles and Newt Gingrich for his political leadership which helped the GOP take back the House.
And last but not least — although again, I’m sure liberals won’t agree with this — the right is ideology of ideas, where all the real debate is, while the left, has become very dogmatic. Put another way, conservatives are still trying to convince the American people that they’re right, and they’re slowly but surely succeeding, while the left has already lost the debate and is simply trying to hold on to what they have by branding dissenters from the liberal orthodoxy as evil fascist greedheads.
Liberalism is in many respects a failing ideology that is still limping along only because of friendly judges who legislate from the bench and the willingness of their candidates to pretend to be much more conservative than they really are when elections roll around. If the Democrats don’t change their ways, I think that within a decade or two they may very well go into a deep decline from which they will never be able to recover.