The Widening Chasm between Liberals and Conservatives

What accounts for the Washington gridlock?LibvsConserv
What separates Republicans and Democrats?

Recently, in a conversation with a very good friend – whom I consider to be a thoughtful and moderate liberal, we engaged in the following verbal, political exercise. We imagined the US political spectrum as a line running from extreme left to extreme right. I asked my friend to locate the New York Times and Fox News on the line. He said without hesitation that he placed the Times slightly to the left of center and Fox News far off to the right. This came as more of a disappointment than a surprise to me. But when I replied that I would locate the Times far to the left and Fox News slightly right of center, my friend was aghast. He seemed to believe that not only was I misguided, but my choices clearly reflected a fanatical, biased, even warped and dangerous misreading of political reality. Furthermore, I suspect that his reaction is fairly typical of the country’s liberals who see themselves as totally mainstream politically, while viewing the nation’s conservatives as hopelessly retrograde, reactionary and subversive.

How has the US come to this wretched state of affairs? Alas, it’s a rather sad, but hardly mysterious story that explains it. Over the last century, the progressive movement has captured the heart and soul of America. Progressives have successfully imposed their political, cultural and economic philosophy onto the institutions, not to mention the people of the United States of America. That massive transformation – in the three afore-mentioned areas – can be summarized relatively briefly as follows:

Politically. The US is no longer a limited government, constitutional republic in which the highest ideals are liberty, rule of law, personal responsibility and achievement, and sovereignty of the people. Instead we have morphed into a Euro-style social welfare state in which a federal government behemoth: intrudes on every aspect of our lives; is contemptuous of the restraints imposed on it by the Constitution; has elevated enforced equality over individual liberty; and regularly tramples on the people’s rights while claiming that it is protecting those rights, all the while dreaming up bogus new ones that it does enforce.

Culturally. American society was historically undergirded by a culture that prized: religion-based morality; strong traditional families and vibrant local communities; its English-speaking heritage; time-tested personal traits like humility, modesty and self-reliance; and above all, a belief in American exceptionalism – the idea that the US is a unique society in world history that has a special responsibility to be a beacon of freedom to the world. Today our culture is saturated with pornography; has perverted the notion of family; eviscerates local authority; celebrates the disunity of multiculturalism; and disavows any special nature of or role for America in the world.

Economically. America’s devotion to capitalism, free markets individual initiative and entrepreneurship has been eroded and our economic system is more accurately described as one manifesting crony capitalism, collectivist practices, central planning and vast government over-regulation.

This remarkable transformation has been achieved by the Left via a century-long cultural assault that has resulted in a nearly universal takeover of virtually all the opinion-molding organs of American society. The media, public schools, libraries, colleges, legal profession, seminaries, major foundations and federal bureaucracy are all in the firm grasp of the Left. Almost all of the political/cultural input the public receives – from cradle to grave – is thoroughly permeated with left-leaning content. The people are literally brainwashed. And so, as the US has progressed from Wilson to FDR to LBJ to Obama, there has been relatively little meaningful dissent or deviation from the collectivist/statist path. The center of gravity of the US political spectrum shifted – not uniformly, to be sure — but certainly steadily to the left. And most of the passengers on the train didn’t detect the motion. The result: the views held by “centrists” today would, even by the standards of fifty years ago, be considered hard left.

Thus my friend is astounded that I am so far removed from what he sees as the center of gravity of American politics.

Now there have always been dissenters on the Right who perceived what was happening and attempted to point it out. The names William Buckley, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan come to mind. But the Left was able to characterize them as misguided, if not loony. Of these, only Reagan had any substantial effect on numerous people. But he was surrounded by those who saw him as out-of-step (recall the amiable dunce remark) and his long-lasting influence was limited.

However, I think things have changed in the last ten years. The Left branded George W Bush as a right-wing conservative. But anyone with half a brain could see that it was not so. The explosive growth of government (in spending and scope, e.g., Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind) proceeded apace on his watch. And then when the most left-wing president in American history was elected, and rammed through government control of health care, an increasing number of people awoke to realize how far leeward our country had drifted. The resistance to the leftist putsch is much more intense and widespread now than it has been in decades (perhaps ever) – notably against those in the Republican Party who differ little in thought and practice from their liberal cousins across the aisle.

And so the two competing visions for America – liberal and conservative – have come into sharper focus. (In this regard, the reader might consult a previous piece of mine outlining those diametrically opposed visions in greater depth.) The space that separates these visions is huge. The ability for those espousing the distinct visions to reconcile or compromise grows exceedingly weak. The re-election of Barack Obama has further deepened that chasm. Thus it is not surprising that Washington is rent by a never-ending series of political crises that elude compromise. The distance from either flank even to the center is too great. To what end will this standoff lead?

Well, I can foresee three possible outcomes from this unhappy state of affairs:

  1. Conservative exhaustion, resulting in the liberals completing the transformation of America that President Obama so fervently desires.
  2. The country splits apart – hopefully peacefully. The irreconcilable differences lead to   divorce.
  3. A century long battle in which the conservatives replicate the strategy of the liberals and thereby take back the culture and the country. (The reader may again consult the previously cited essay for a fuller discussion of this strategy.)

Sadly, Scenario #1 is quite likely. Scenario #2 is rather far-fetched, although one hears it discussed seriously these days. Actually, I believe that either of the first two scenarios could happen within a relatively short time frame. But personally, I am hoping it is Scenario #3 that is the winner. I think we shall know within a decade or so as it is hard to imagine matters continuing as they currently are without one of the first two alternatives coming to pass.

This essay also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative