Is America a Conservative Country?

That’s what pundits would have you believe, that we’re a “center-right” nation, that Reaganism is deep in the electorate’s bones, yadda yadda yadda.  But does the data bear it out?  Well, no.

 

James A. Stimson is a political scientist at the UNC-Chapel Hill, and one of the most well-respected public opinion researchers in the nation.  For years, he has developed a factor analysis of public opinion, developing a measure of the public’s ideological “mood”: the higher the number, the more liberal the public is.  Here is his most recent plot:

Does This Look Like a Reagan Revolution to You?

 

Whatever this graph tells us, it certainly belies the notion that Reaganism has had a major impact on US public opinion.  Currently, the public’s “mood” lies somewhere between 57 and 58, slightly above its level in 1972, and far above where it stood in 1981, the apex of the Reagan era.  Indeed, if anything, it shows that as soon as the public got a taste of the Gipper, it turned sharply in the other direction, as it did when George W. Bush was appointed by the Supreme Court.  That doesn’t mean that Reagan came from nowhere: the 70’s represented a sharp rightward shift.  Ditto with Gingrich ascendancy, which essentially caught up with great conservatism in the 1990’s.

Note well, however, that current opinion is not even close to the heights of conservatism, and is closer if anything to the Great Society of the mid-60’s and Nixonian liberalism of the early 70’s.  So this is a period when the public mood is somewhat sympathetic to progressivism.

Why during such a period the Right has been successful at framing and dominating the policy debate is an exercise left to the reader.

 

Election 2011: Your Homework Assignment

In the wake of the good political news last night, especially from Ohio, let us pause and consider these questions from Charlie Pierce over at Esquire (penned before the results were in).  Because at the end of the day, they are the ones that matter.  And if we can’t answer them, then anything that happened yesterday will be less than a footnote.

Let’s assume that Kasich gets kicked around, the way it looks like he might, and the way he thoroughly deserves to be, god knows. What happens next? Is there really an actual movement building here, a parallel mobilization among the largely white middle class that would parallel the one taking place in the Occupy camps around the country? Or will the people on the lawn go back to sneering about the drum-beating hippies sleeping in the parks? Will they all leave the state capitol in Columbus and go back to listening to the hundreds of sub-Limbaughs on their local radio stations, telling them that teachers have it too good because they have summers off, or that firefighters are gaming the disability system, and that “government” is merely a way for all of Them to steal Our money, and that voting is just a waste of time? Do they all go back to worrying about The Deficit, which is merely convenient shorthand for all the things they don’t want to pay for? Do they all go home and prepare themselves, through ignorance and apathy, to vote for the next John Kasich who comes along?
 
What are the answers to these questions?  And what are we supposed to do about it?

Eric Cantor Tells the Truth

Really.  Explaining why the Republicans are rejecting President Obama’s jobs package, which includes things like rebuilding schools and spending on infrastructure like roads, bridges, etc., Cantor said:

I think at this point Washington has become so dysfunctional that we’ve got to start focusing on the incremental progress we can make. Both sides have their desires to do the big bold things. The problem is they’re just vastly different.

 Yes.  Absolutely.

The Democrats want to preserve Medicare, and the Republicans want to end it.  The Democrats want to protect the environment, and the Republicans want to destroy it.  The Democrats want to rebuild schools, and the Republicans don’t.  The Republicans, in turn, want to give very large tax cuts to people making more than $250,000 a year, and the Democrats don’t.  The Republicans want to empower Wall Street and let the banks do anything they want, and the Democrats don’t.

There is a choice here.  People disagree.  To say that the politicians should “put aside their differences” and “work things out” ignores basic reality and is willfully blind.

It’s really just that simple.  And it is what the campaign must be about.

Elizabeth Warren for Democratic Convention Keynote

Good news from the Bay State, as PPP’s latest poll shows Elizabeth Warren up two points over Scott Brown.

Bad news from Ron Suskind, who strongly suggests that Tim Geithner and White House officials undermined her, and didn’t like interference from women anyway.

Well, there’s an obvious way to remedy any problems, and not-coincidentally move a sharp, excellent message for the 2012 campaign: make Elizabeth Warren the Democratic Convention keynote speaker.  She’s excellent on television and incredibly articulate. 

The keynoter does not have to be announced until shortly before the convention, and the Massachusetts Democratic primary is on March 6th.  She’s obviously the strong favorite in the primary, and of course highly competitive for the general election.  Her message of protecting and strengthening the middle class is clearly where the Party wants to be.  Hopefully, that’s where the President wants to be, too.

What’s that you say?  Is a Senate candidate without national elected office really capable of delivering a convention keynote?  It worked out pretty well the last time.

New Model, Old Coalition

Fervent Obama supporters face a basic problem that we’ve yet to come to terms with: we were fervent about different things. We were a standard political coalition that was fooled into thinking ourselves a movement.

What do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with a Unitarian? Someone who knocks on your door for no particular reason.

I thought of that joke when reading James’ recent comment alluding to his (excellent) post from 2008 about how Obama’s grassroots movement was like the New Model Army. In both cases the movement’s unprecedented breadth and power, once unleashed, was fearsome in battle—but one couldn’t ride that Army into power and expect anything less than revolution. As James put it: “What [Obama] won’t be able to do is shelve his sweeping promises and govern from the technocratic, establishment centre like Bill Clinton. He will have to be a great reforming president or fail.”

I think this is half right, in the way the joke implies. Obama for America had the tone of a movement: it relied on faith- and hope-based rather than instrumentalist motivations, adopted the cadences of the Civil Rights movement (much against Obama’s own personal inclinations), built a pretty successful ethos of fellowship and organization for their own sakes, and yes, could be very moralistic. But while the movement’s tone expressed zealotry, its purpose had no trace of Puritan precision.

Continue reading “New Model, Old Coalition”

A speech for our hard times

A speech eerily pertinent to the present.

(Cross-posted at the Century Foundation’s Taking Note blog)

President Obama was giving a speech the other day. I heard something like the following:

Let me warn you and let me warn the Nation against the smooth evasion which says, “Of course we believe all these things; we believe in Social Security; we believe in work for the unemployed; we believe in saving homes. Cross our hearts and hope to die, we believe in all these things; but we do not like the way the present Administration is doing them. Just turn them over to us. We will do all of them- we will do more of them we will do them better; and, most important of all, the doing of them will not cost anybody anything.” Continue reading “A speech for our hard times”

Role models

Obam isn’t Lincoln: is he McClellan?

President Obama would like to be Lincoln, but is not: that’s not a criticism. But he increasingly resembles one of Lincoln’s subordinates: a handsome, charismatic leader, brilliant at organizing, popular with the troops, but fatally passive and unaggressive on the battlefield:

General George B. McClellan (wartime photo by Matthew Brady, via Wikimedia).

Perhaps it’s time for American liberals to look for a scruffy guy with a rumoured drinking problem.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy About the Debt Ceiling

A couple of friends asked me whether the debt ceiling deal signalled a new Age of Extortion, in which we go through this mess every time we have to raise the debt ceiling. 

Not to worry, I said.

In 2013, given President Obama’s steadfast refusal to do anything about jobs and economic growth, there will likely be a Republican President.  If the Democratic Senate minority breathes a word of doing the same thing, President Bachmann or Perry or Romney or whoever will simply announce that the 14th Amendment gives the President the right to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally.  The President will then release the OLC Opinion written by David Addington.

End of story.  The GOP understands power, unlike some other Presidents I could name….