The New Conservatism

The political media have accepted the myth of "equivalence" that says political polarization and governmental dysfunction are the result of both parties going to extremes of right and left. It is a myth. Regardless of the rightward drumbeat that the Democratic party has moved as far left as the Republicans have moved right, it is not the case.

Neither Presidents Carter, Clinton nor Obama are liberals of the left. In each case they governed from somewhere near the "center," however that elusive position may be defined. Indeed, Bill Clinton prided himself as being a "centrist" and "triangulator." But if the goalpost moves rightward, as it has in the age of Fox, Inc., what used to be the moderately conservative position on a wide variety of issues gradually becomes the "center." Orwell taught us decades ago that he who controls the meaning of words dictates the terms of the debate. Anyone out there advocating "liberalism" these days?

What it gets down to is that anyone who doesn't buy into the neo-conservative agenda is labeled a "liberal." Barry Goldwater would be uncomfortable in today's Republican party where very conservative senators such as Bennett and Hatch of Utah are considered too liberal. Some will say that the Obama administration health care law is "liberal." If so, then why did its fundamental principles arise from conservative policy centers as a reasonable approach to a serious social and economic problem -- bankrupting health care costs?

Congressional Democrats have mostly been in a defensive posture, and resisted persistent efforts to erode the social contract created in the 1930s and 60s, with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid-especially when those trying to "privatize" (i.e., destroy) this safety net want to continue to cut reasonable taxes on wealth at the same time. Are debt and deficits a problem? Of course. But an agenda of "cutting spending" while at the same time cutting taxes will never be accepted by the solid majority of Americans who support these programs and believe in tax justice. Democrats are not on the extreme left -- equivalent to the Republicans' new right -- by seeking to protect this social contract and safety net. They are simply trying to protect a social bargain accepted by a large majority of Americans then and now against an attempt to return to the pre-New Deal era of law of the jungle, every man for himself, and devil take the hindmost.

The number of Congressional Democrats today who could be described as traditional liberals can be counted on the fingers of one hand and they are elected by a majority in their districts who agree with their beliefs. So, let's be honest about political positions. The new right used to be the far right, the center is where moderate conservatives used to be, and those advocating Rooseveltian policies are very few.

At the very least, those in the political media ought to abandon the myth of "equivalence" and be honest about today's politics. The right has moved far right and those protecting the social contract are the new conservatives.