Saturday, May 15, 2010


Charles Blow of The New York Times sees the country trending right, but thinks a new liberal dawn is inevitable. I wish I shared his optimism:

Is "Left" becoming a four-letter word?

You'd think so lately with each day bringing more news of unconscionable conservative tilts in the electorate, while the drumbeat of the Democrats' supposed death march to November gets ever louder.

For example, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey released this week found that a majority of Americans supported Arizona's hostile new immigration law....

A May 7 Gallup poll found that 42 percent of people wanted a Supreme Court nominee who would make the court more conservative, as opposed to only 27 percent who wanted a nominee who would make it more liberal....

An Associated Press-GfK poll released this week found that a plurality of people still favor increasing drilling for oil and gas off the coasts....

And Gallup released a poll on Friday entitled "The New Normal on Abortion: Americans More "Pro-Life.'"....

I am convinced that the right may win the day, but the left will win the age. That's because the right is running an intellectually bereft campaign of desperation and disenchantment, amplified by a recession.

Great Recessions don't last. Great ideas do.

Really? What's inevitable about the success of abortion rights, sensitivity to civil liberties, or concern about environmental risks? And if the success of these is inevitable somewhere, as part of a march of progress, what guarantee is there that that somewhere is here? Haven't many societies made the move from vanguard to the wayside, all the while clinging to a reactionary notion of a (probably nonexistent) glorious golden age in the past? What prevents America from heading that way?

What exactly would bring back liberalism in this country? It seems clearer and clearer that the triumph of the Democrtic Party in 2006 and 2008 had very little to do with a renewed fondness for liberalism. This doesn't mean that Americans aren't potentially quite progressive -- it's just that only one side, the right, incessantly presents a Grand Unified Theory of the best way to govern, and in the last two election cycles the propagandists of that theory were associated with the failures of the Bush administration.

That turned out to be a brief setback. The propagandists persisted, used sleight of hand (e.g., the formation and promotion of the tea party movement) to dissociate themselves from Bush, and they never, ever stopped selling their worldview. And now it's back with a vengeance.

In another Times op-ed, Gail Collins writes about the Georgia state legislature's passing of laws to allow guns in bars, schools, and (most troubling) the parts of airports not covered by federal law. As Collins rights:

Enthusiasm for finding new places to carry guns swelled among Georgia lawmakers....

Well, exactly. That's how the right does it. The right keeps selling its worldview (firearm ownership is the freedom that makes all the other freedoms possible!), and then righties just keep coming with proposal after proposal, wedge issue after wedge issue. Collins quotes a legislator in Tennessee, a Republican, who's not fully with the program, and who sees how it works in his state (and elsewhere):

"Essentially the N.R.A. is saying to us, if you don't support and vote for carrying guns in bars, we will not endorse you. This line of reason borders on lunacy," said Joe McCord, a Republican in the Tennessee House. He was arguing for an amendment that would have restricted gun-carrying to establishments that got most of their income from serving food rather than alcohol. The amendment lost. McCord is not running for re-election.

And Collins cites the underlying worldview, as exemplified by one of its best-known propagandists:

"President Obama and his allies like Nancy Pelosi ... if they thought they could get away with it, they would ban guns and ban ammunition," Sarah Palin told the N.R.A. convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday.

It was one of her stream-of-consciousness speeches, dividing the nation into Us (mothers, hunters, the Tea Party Movement, people who love America) and Them (Hollywood hypocrites, animal rightists who are opposed to the swatting of flies, dumb elitist fashion editors, liberals).

I wouldn't diminish it by calling it "stream of consciousness." This division of the nation into good and evil works. It even works on quite a few of the people in the "evil" category -- people in the coastal media elite may favor abortion rights and reasonable gun laws and the like, but they secretly fear that the folks on the other side are more "authentic" than they themselves are, and so they give great deference to the biggest right-wing loudmouths.

The triumph of liberalism isn't inevitable by any means. I don't even think it's possible until liberals begin the slow, painful work of getting Americans in the middle to see liberalism as Americanism. And I don't see anyone even beginning to work on that project.

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