The Economist has an article about the decline of the Conservative movement in America. It cites a shift in American attitudes about certain bellwether issues, summed up in poll questions like "I believe government should help the needy even if it means greater debt," "I believe the best way to ensure peace is through military strength," and "I never doubt the existence of God."
The magazine notes that answers to those three questions, among others, have shifted leftward since the ascent of the Conservatives starting in the 1980s, according to the Pew Research center. It's about time.
It's probably worth looking at the implications of each of those statements.
"I believe the government should help the needy even if it means greater debt."
For years, the conservatives have managed to pervert and distort what should be an easy question for a human of average empathetic capacity. The Horatio Alger plot formula simply does not apply in every situation. With a few very notable e exceptions, there are no "welfare queens." When JFK toured Appalachia in 1960, the country was shocked to see the abject poverty in which Americans were living. RFK repeated the trip, with much the same results. The media, and, by extension, the American people, were forced to pay attention.
Fast forward 40 years. The Republicans have managed to propagate the "morning in America" myth. Reagan's "trickle-down" theory has had its intended (though not its stated) effect: the rich got richer, the poor got poorer. The Clinton presidency managed to do some good, though not enough. Then, of course, Bush fiddled while the world (Darfur, New Orleans, Afghanistan, Iraq) burned.
Leave aside the (hopefully) obvious moral considerations. They're more than sufficient to prove the case, but the electorate needs some more tangible arguments. When will we learn that we ignore poverty and suffering at our extreme peril? If gang members had legitimate opportunities, does anyone seriously believe they would choose a life of extreme danger and crime over the safety, security, and comfort of middle-class existence? If the majority of the Sunni extremists had jobs, homes, and full bellies, would they follow the radical imams? Of course not. Without discontent, there would be no hatred to direct against America.
Increasing the debt will be the least of our concerns if we don't "help the needy." There is no possible way to prevent another 9/11, or reduce domestic crime, if we don't address their root causes. No, it's not sexy. Yes, it's easier to blame people for their circumstances. Yes, it's hard to give up some of our wealth for the benefit of others. But that's the only way to enjoy any measure of security. Oh, and it's the right thing to do.
"I believe the best way to ensure peace is through military strength."
I started to address this in the previous section. Of course we need military strength. Of course we need the most powerful, most invincible military in the world. No one seriously questions this. But it's quite obvious that this isn't enough. We had the most fearsome military in September of 2001, and that tragically was insufficient to protect us from 19 hijackers and some evil plotters in Afghanistan.
The best way to ensure peace is through a combination of direct aid, engagement with other world powers (including those with whom we disagree), thoughtful, considered and considerate foreign policy, and yes, unstoppable military might. Relying on any one of these to the exclusion of the others is a recipe for disaster. Just look at Iraq.
"I never doubt the existence of God."
It's not clear why this should be a measure of political bent. Undoubtedly, in American politics, it is. This is a measure of the Republican party's complete subservience to James Dobson, et. al. Republicans, especially in the last 15 years or so, have made a Faustian bargain with the religious right. They were so desperate for power that they relied on the get-out-the-vote prowess of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobsen and their ilk. Evangelical leaders have an undeniable ability to brainwash their congregants, telling them whom to vote for and what to think, or rather, what to regurgitate. The Republicans grew drunk on this power, and found themselves bound to follow their instructions. Thus, right-wingers fought hard to keep Terri Shiavo alive. They positioned themselves firmly behind the movement to dismantle Roe v. Wade. They floated a federal marriage amendment.
This put them at odds with the majority of the electorate. And it's starting to catch up with them.
The Economist reported that 150 Bush administration staffers went to Regent University. Yeah - Pat Robertson's Regent University. That one. Yeah. Tangent: isn't the point of an institution of higher learning supposed to foster independent thought? Schools whose stated purpose is to inculcate one particular worldview don't deserve the name 'school.'
OK, sorry about that. Bush has 150 staffers who were "educated" in Pat Robertson's mind mold. Who can feel good about that?
So now there are more people who disagree with the statement that "I never doubt the existence of God." Good or bad, it may indicate that people are realizing what our Founding Fathers knew - that it's probably not a good idea to let religious leaders have anything to do with governing a country.
The Economist article closes with the observation that the Democrats haven't really done anything to deserve their uptick in power. The approval rating of the Democratic-controlled Congress is lower than Bush's. Most people think that the Democrats will will the White House in 2008. Hopefully so. History has shown that the Democrats, more than any other group, simply excel at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Please, please don't fuck this up. The world can't handle another right-wing presidency.