Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Conservatives may just be on the losing side of U.S. history

Maybe in November, maybe not, but sometime soon. While it looks like 9/11 has created a steady and inevitable rise in conservative power in the United States, 9/11 reaction is just a paper dragon on top of greater social trends. Not a paper dragon for all of the people who have been hurt in our flurry of blind revenge, but for U.S. society as a whole.

A lot of the thinking that has fueled politics from the right post-9/11 has been recycled from the Reagan years, where conservatives decisively took power not just in politics but in society at large after around twenty years of a push towards social reform. Reagan took power in 1980, just so you know. Many people credit this to the brilliancy of the conservative program, a program that's thought to be a surefire antidote to liberal challengers: just crank up the Cold War-esque rhetoric and imagery, boost patriotism, cut all taxes in the name of populism, and you'll beat the liberals and their followers every time. But was it Reagan's ideas or the tide of resentment to social change that was responsible for it all? If it was the latter, then 9/11 conservatives are on the losing side of things if they think that beating the drum of patriotism and revenge endlessly will be enough to ensure their power.

Instead of twenty years of liberalism we have sixteen years of hardcore conservatism doled out in eight year increments consisting of Reagan and Bush II, punctuated four years of a less insane conservative in Bush I and eight years of self declaredly centrist Democrats who publicly refuted the welfare state philosophy that had informed mainstream liberalism since FDR. All in all about twenty eight years, a little less. This isn't the stuff of counter-revolution, it's the stuff of potentially increasing impulses to liberalism and leftism gurgling up and percolating through society waiting for a chance to come to the top.

Some folks have said that there's a necessary back and forth between political parties over the years, that it sort of mindlessly repeats, but while changes do occur I'd like to think that there was either some underlying reason or some concrete political approach that won over popularity that provide the causes for this. There are eternal political questions, perennial issues of how society should function, who should have power, how should people's problems be addressed, what's the role of government if any, that every political moment hopefully tries to formulate a response to. There's also the immediate context that the political moment exists in, as well as the historical baggage it confronts. Society is always simultaneously responding to these three things, whether it's conscious of it or not. When a social movement happens it's not necessarily just blind reaction to the previous state of things but differences that stem from divergent answers to the perennial questions in light of how well past efforts have been to address them in a good way, as judged by people in general, as well as the present condition of things at the time, including the immediate political context as well as the immediate political issues, that cause the shift. All of this also indicates just which direction the shift is probably going to occur and why exactly it may occur.

Conservatism is failing miserably on many levels post-9/11, although it's also visibly succeeding on many as well. It's hollowed out and has no new ideas, besides unofficial outrageous fascism. The liberal core, on the other hand, has lots and lots of them.
If people live their lives like they matter, it's probable that that will lead to a liberal ascendency once the hard shell of 9/11 conservatism has been punctured.

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