Sunday, July 04, 2021


At his blog Jabberwocking, Kevin Drum -- yes, he's still around -- is out with the a scorching hot take:
If you hate the culture wars, blame liberals

On Thursday I posted a series of charts that all documented a similar theme: Since roughly the year 2000, according to survey data, Democrats have moved significantly to the left on most hot button social issues while Republicans have moved only slightly right....

I've made this point many times before, and I want to make it again more loudly and more plainly today. It is not conservatives who have turned American politics into a culture war battle. It is liberals.
In the Thursday post Drum cites, he cited surveys demonstrating, at least to his satisfaction, that the GOP is roughly where it was a generation ago and the Democratic Party has moved significantly leftward. A few examples:

In the latter chart, you might not see a big change at first glance, but Drum's point is that the number of Democrats who think abortion should always be legal has gone up considerably, while the number of Republicans who think it should always be illegal hasn't increased very much.

But why are we measuring polarization this way? Democratic politicians haven't radically expanded abortion access, even in blue states, while Republican politicians have radically restricted access, and nearly every D.C. Republican calls for a total or near-total ban on abortion. How are we stoking a culture war when Republicans are the ones who continually upend the status quo?

On guns, Republican states are rapidly expanding access, and the federal ban on assault weapons expired during the period Drum covers. Democrats have introduced a few restrictions in blue states that make firearm ownership marginally more difficult, but the tilt is in Republicans' favor, based on what Republican politicians have done with their power. So why argue that Democrats are responsible for the culture war?

Polls showing that Republican voters are right-centrist don't matter much when those voters don't vote right-centrist. The polls suggest that many Republicans support some access to abortion -- but they don't vote for politicians who do. The overwhelming support in America for universal background checks obviously includes quite a few Republicans -- but they won't stop voting for the party that unalterably opposes them. Republicans backed a presidential candidate in 2000 and 2004 who sought comprehensive immigration reform -- but other members of George W. Bush's own party insisited on a hard line against reform, and GOP voters have never punished those politicians for that view. Instead, they made Donald Trump their nominee in 2016 and 2020, and they'll pick him again in 2024 if he runs.

Drum can argue that Democrats have alienated even non-white moderates with very left-wing positions on certain issues.
Recently, white academic theories of racism—and probably the whole woke movement in general—have turned off many moderate Black and Hispanic voters. Ditto for liberal dismissal of crime and safety issues. Hispanics in particular moved in Trump's direction despite—or maybe because of—his position on immigration and the wall.
But Drum is measuring this culture war across twenty years, even though the war in its current form precedes that period. Republicans in the 1990s talked about Bill Clinton -- Bill Clinton! -- as if he was a communist and a dangerous cultural radical. Clinton was first elected four years after Mike Dukakis -- Mike Dukakis! -- was similarly portrayed as a radical rather than the technocratic pragmatist that he was.

If Democratic voters are talking about radical change, it might be out of frustration that even moderate incremental change (on police racism, on the climate, on the minimum wage, on taxes, on immigration reform) seems hard to come by. Except in a few areas -- LGBT rights, legalized weed -- we're not pushing America to the left in a significant way. But the right thinks we are, and thought so long before 2000.

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