Study after study after study over the past 40 years has revealed the fundamental failure of Democratic politics: Americans overwhelming support liberal policies - Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, environmental protection, energy conservation, human rights, civil rights, and every variety of regulation to keep corporations in line - yet consistently call themselves "conservative" and vote for politicans who oppose liberal policies.
SteveM has been saying for years that Democrats cannot turn that around until they figure out how to make more liberals. It's more critical than ever, as he explains:
Gallup today offers more evidence that conservatism is on the rise -- which I think is excellent news for conservatives and Republicans in the short run, not as good news as they think in the long run, and probably a disaster for the country over the next decade. I'll explain what I mean below.
Conservatives have maintained their leading position among U.S. ideological groups in the first half of 2010. Gallup finds 42% of Americans describing themselves as either very conservative or conservative....
As you can see, the percentage of people calling themselves liberal hasn't really changed much. (It's actually been slightly higher since Bush's reelection than it was during Bill Clinton's entire term, whatever that means.) The new conservatives, as the graph makes clear, are people who used to consider themselves moderates.
I've been talking about this for a while, in response to other Gallup polls showing similar results -- I've talked about Democratic politicians' failure to defend the notion of liberalism and about liberals' inability to compelling to heartland swing voters. I think this is yet another dire warning for liberals and Dems -- though I think it's a good news/bad news situation.
Moderates are becoming more conservative because conservatism, to them, now means whatever they want it to mean. Primarily, it means "opposition to whatever's going on right now." The right-wing noise machine is selling conservatism with descriptions that aren't particularly detailed -- less government! more freedom! what the Founding Fathers wanted! not socialism! tricorn hats! -- and nobody quite knows what any of that would be like if put into practice because right-wingers, while able to gum up the works in Congress, aren't able to advance their own legislation. So it's just a hopeful-sounding set of platitudes.
Unfortunately, it's going to be just that for another two years. I think Republicans are going to take the House, but Democrats will hold on to the Senate and, of course, the White House. House Republicans may overreach (fishing-expedition investigations? impeachment? attempted repeal of popular programs? the return of the the religious right's agenda?), but they still won't pass anything extreme. So their goals will still seem largely theoretical for another two years.
That's great for Obama and Democrats if the economy recovers -- but if this is turning into an economic "lost decade" (and I agree with Paul Krugman that it is), then right-wing ideology will have even more time to seem like the one thing we haven't tried -- the one thing that can save us.
If this scenario is right, there'll be even fewer moderates and even more conservatives at this time in 2012. And the GOP will take back the government the following November -- and, after that, voters will learn what right-wing Republicanism really is. They won't like it, but by then it will be too late.
Last week, he explained how those fundamentally liberal Americans who call themselves conservatives can be roused to the point of dragging even Conservadem Obama to the left.
I don't know for sure if the $20 billion fund BP has been pressured to create is a terrific or at least very good thing or less than meets the eye, but so far it seems like a win -- a good thing for the afflicted (if it's done right) and a serious bite taken out of BP. It looks like a win for Obama, too, after a disappointing weak-tea speech (the deal makes the speech seem like even more of a waste of time). The BP deal is revealing the true colors of corporatist Republicans like Michelle Bachman and Haley Barbour, at a time when the right wants to seem like America's populist wing. I'm seeing a lot of good here.
So it seems to me that the apolitical majority of Americans have done something that the left alone has never managed to do: they've pressured a reluctant Barack Obama to move to the left on an issue. When 71% of the country says the president has been too soft on BP and only 3% say he's been too tough, even the conflict-averse Obama responds. On the public option, on breaking up the big banks, on civil liberties, angry lefties alone have never managed to get this kind of response.
It's yet another indication that if the left wants to have any clout, it needs to make inroads among people in the vast middle -- many of whom are inclined to a basic liberalism but aren't fired up by the issues that move committed lefties. We need, as I've said, to make more liberals. We need to get a bigger percentage of the population on our side. And no, I don't know how to do that. I'm just analyzing the problem. The right, via talk radio and Fox, has politicized people who wouldn't have been politicized otherwise; the right has made politics compelling and entertaining, and made right-wing ideas seem to a lot of people like plain common sense. The left needs to find a way to do that for people who aren't ideologues now. The right alone can decide the fate of an issue because the committed right is fairly large; the left alone simply can't do that. It won't be possible until the left grows.
You can help grow liberals by reminding yourself what liberals have accomplished. Read and pass along this 2003 declaration "I am a Fighting Liberal."
Mudrake makes excellent points on the same subject.