TEABAGS ARE YOUR NEW BICYCLE
Gallup todays 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 make more liberals by making liberalism 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.