E.J. Dionne makes the argument that the center in American politics is drifting to the left. There’s some merit to that analysis, but in context, it comes after years in which the American center has drifted to the right.
I don’t think that the American people’s ideological makeup has changed at all — it rarely does. What has changed is the political outlook. The Republicans had years of complete control and failed to deliver on their key values. However, the country has had nearly 30 years of center-right governance. Reagan was an unabashedly conservative President with a liberal Congress, but managed to take the country out of the malaise of the Carter years and transform the American economy — and he was instrumental in defusing the Cold War, which only 20 years prior had threatened the destruction of the nation. He was followed by the center-right George H. Bush who was less effective, but still continued his policies. His successor, Bill Clinton, ran as a “New Democrat” and his key initiatives ended up being center-right ones: welfare reform, NAFTA, a massive capital gains tax cut, founding the WTO, and law enforcement. Clinton may have been a liberal, but his Presidency gave little for liberals to win. It was his initial attempts to govern from the left that helped the Gingrich Revolution — the voters soundly rejected HillaryCare, were angered at the social experimentation of gays in the military, and found Clinton’s 1993 tax hike unpalatable.
The collapse of the Republican Revolution last year wasn’t because people were sick and tird of conservatism, it’s because the Republicans lost their moorings. They became part of the Washington establishment that they had initially run against, and they got punished for it. Sadly, they’re only barely learning the lessons of those failures.
Dionne points to healthcare, inequality, and Iraq as signs of a leftward drift. However, where is the policy consensus? Some states are experimenting with universal health care plans, but these experiments won’t work any better than previous experiments have. Even if such a plan were passed on a national level, it would collapse within a matter of years — if that long. The American people are used to completely open access to healthcare. The second stories of months-long waiting lists for routine medical procedures — common in Canada — start happening, the system will lose all popularity. The reason HillaryCare collapsed is because consumers realized that their freedom of choice would be gone — HMOs are already bad enough, but having the government serve as the HMO from hell is hardly a better alternative.
Gov. Romney’s Massachusetts experiment was less about government control and more about making insurance portable from employer to employer — which is what a well-designed system should do. The Massachusetts plan isn’t perfect, but it’s not the sort of Canadian-style socialized medicine that the left really wants.
Not to mention that now that Michael Moore, the Castro-suckling propagandist, is making an issue of health care, having Democratic plans associated with Castro’s Cuba is not likely to make them much more popular.
As for inequality, the reality is that it has never been the sort of issue that the Democrats would like it to be — mainly because it only exists on paper. The United States has a vibrant middle class — something that doesn’t exist in Europe. If “inequality” were such a potent issue, John Edwards wouldn’t be sinking. The reality is that an economy is not a zero-sum game. The fact that Steve Jobs is filthy rich doesn’t mean that John Smith is forever limited to making $30,000. The “two Americas” schtick isn’t taking, because it doesn’t match the reality of life for the vast majority of the American people.
People are annoyed with the exorbitant CEO benefit packages, but that doesn’t mean that they’re prepared to pay higher taxes themselves for some harebrained Democratic social engineering scheme. Again, the American people aren’t going to take back the progress of the last 30 years and return to the days of “stagflation”, gas lines, and 28% APR home loans.
As for Iraq, it is like Vietnam in many ways — the Democrats will to see defeat at all costs will continue to tag them as the party of weakness. Especially when Americans see the costs that such ignominious defeat would bring. Fortunately, I don’t think it will happen. The Democrats can’t force a withdrawal, and we finally have the right strategy. This is a case where even if the political consequences are ruinous — which, for the GOP, they are — doing what’s politically correct would be national suicide. We cannot afford a loss in Iraq, and if we win, we’ll have a peace dividend that will be crucial to this war.
What if Dionne is right? What if the nation really is trending left?
Leftism and reality don’t mix well. Even if there is a leftward turn in this country, it won’t last long because at the most basic level, left-wing policies simply don’t work. Protectionism would cost millions of Americans their jobs. Higher taxes would dramatically slow down the economy, and again cause massive job losses. Socialized medicine would lead to waiting times and lack of access to lifesaving procedures. A surrender in Iraq would make a large-scale terrorist attack inevitable — and it would likely lead to a death toll far greater than the attacks of September 11.
The problem is that all of those things would be greatly injurious to our nation, including costing thousands of lives. It would once again discredit leftism in this country, but the price would be far higher than we should bear.
Fortunately, I don’t see that happening. The reality is that the Democrats won not on the strength of their ideas, but on the weakness of the competition. The Republicans are embracing the center, but at the same time rediscovering their core values. (If far too slowly.) There’s a far greater chance of a tax-cutting, spending-reducing, strong-on-defense conservative being elected in 2008 than there is on a closet socialist whose monogram is HRC — or any of her liberal ilk. The reality is that nearly 30 years of center-right rule in this country has led to nearly unprecedented peace and prosperity, and even if there is a jag to the left, this country is not going to return to the failed policies of the 1970s in which liberalism was ascendant.