A common lament these days is that Washington is so polarized that it cannot get anything done. It is observed that the Democratic Party is completely dominated by its ultra-liberal wing – with the further recognition that this has been true at least since the nomination of George McGovern. The leftward bias is reflected in the Dems’ insatiable appetite for large government and increased federal spending, and their obsession with multiculturalism, gay rights, affirmative action, global warming and “Wall Street greed.” Simultaneously, the sense is that the Republican Party is controlled by its right-wing constituents – although that dominance can only be traced back to Reagan, or perhaps only to Gingrich and maybe only since the advent of the TEA Party. Whenever its inception, the members of the GOP are now, theoretically, intractably committed to lower taxes, reduced federal spending, deregulation, anti-abortion policies and the repeal of Obamacare. This extreme divergence of fundamental views explains why compromise is increasingly impossible, resulting in a paralytic government gridlock that prevents the nation from addressing its most pressing problems.
Superficially, this analysis is correct. But it glosses over an important historical fact implicit in the dates supplied above for the origins of each Party’s coalescence into a single mindset. It also misses the fact that the national political/cultural conversation has been totally skewed for a very long time because of the vast discrepancy in those dates of origin. Indeed, the Left’s capture of the Democratic Party began during the Progressive Era – especially under Woodrow Wilson – and was arguably complete by the time of FDR – i.e., long before LBJ, McGovern or Obama appeared on the scene. On the other hand, the Republican Party has been adrift from its conservative moorings since the administration of Teddy Roosevelt, continuing right up to that of George W Bush – with some countervailing trends evident only during the Coolidge and Reagan eras.
The point is that while it is indeed true that today there are two very distinct visions for America competing for the allegiance of the American people, that dynamic has not been in play for most of the last century. As I described in an article published several years ago, Different Visions, the Leftist playbook was written by the Progressive Era Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, who asserted: One need only capture the culture. The politics will follow. And that is exactly what the leftists did over the last century. Through an unremitting assault on many fronts, the Left took control of all the opinion-forming organs of American society: the media, educational establishment (lower and higher), the legal profession, foundations and libraries, the government bureaucracy and the unions, the marketing industry and (to a certain extent) the upper echelons of big business. Once the people’s mindset was converted from individual liberty to collective equality, security and order, it was easy to convince them to implement the political changes that enabled the conversion of America from a free society into a statist society.
The Left’s cultural assault was broad, sustained, relentless and purposeful. The Right – naively assuming that things would naturally stay the way they always had been – wasn’t even paying attention. A few noticed (e.g., William Buckley), but for the most part, traditionalists and conservatives did not appreciate that the fundamental organs of society that supported and maintained the traditional American culture were being subverted and diverted to something radically different. It is only in recent times that a substantial portion of traditional America has awakened to the radical leftist revolution that has swept the country and which threatens to kill the historic society that America embodied. Previously – and perhaps still – the framework for the national political/cultural conversation was set entirely by the Left and it was little noted – by any on either side – that the axioms assumed by all who engaged in the conversation were biased strongly towed the left end of the spectrum.
Now, how has the one-sidedness of our national political/cultural conversation been accorded recognition across the land? Simple; it hasn’t! With few exceptions, the American people have been largely blind to the vast transformation that occurred in our society over the course of the twentieth century. Does anyone ever question the legitimacy of Social Security? How many doubt that the FDA is critical to keeping America’s prescription drug supply bountiful and safe? Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America, but the mainstream media dubs Rush Limbaugh a fascist. Does anyone recognize that American pop culture is best described as a cesspool? And why exactly are they putting those condoms on cucumbers in the classroom? In presidential debates, candidates argue over how to run the government more efficiently, or who will start or streamline which program that that will most “benefit” the public. But the question of the nature of our Republic, how or even whether we should remain true to our founding principles, or which is more important – liberty or equality; these questions never come up. It does not occur to the moderator to ask them, nor does the failure to do so disturb the candidates.
It may be that there is some clarity regarding political vision today; but in the recent past, America’s perception of where it stood politically and culturally in relation to its historical practices has been that of a blind man. Moreover, the blindness manifests in somewhat different ways according to one’s place in the political spectrum.
- On the Left: Anyone who has sat in on a university committee meeting, or glanced at the front page of the NY Times, or attended a back-to-school night, or listened to Nancy Peolosi pontificate, knows that the Left takes absolutely for granted that a progressive agenda is the only agenda that is suitable for America. Moreover, those on the Left take it as axiomatic that any intelligent person recognizes and accepts the appropriateness of that agenda. In that committee room, it never occurs to the lefties in attendance (i.e., virtually everyone) that anyone in the room might think differently from them. Having achieved a dominance of the American political/cultural scene that they could only have dreamed of in 1911, the Left considers it normal and permanent, and an abomination (not to mention a surprise) whenever it is challenged in any way by someone on the Right. The horrific idea of returning to the conventions of 125 years ago is tantamount to the restoration of slavery and oppression of women – sins that have irrevocably stained America and which we have finally overcome only by implementing an unchallengeable, progressive agenda.
- In the middle: This is likely the largest category of people. Those who don’t see themselves as ideological leftists or rightists – but rather practical, sensible, compromise-friendly independents – are blithely unaware that the conversation has tilted tremendously. Such people often have a weak sense of history, little appreciation for the social and economic consequences of a century of collectivist programs, and are easily swayed by the bromides of a slick politician. They do not see how the fulcrum on the political spectrum has been shifted precipitously to the Left. They consider themselves centrists, but do not understand that the positions they take and programs they support are collectivist. A lifetime of exposure to the leftist-dominated opinion-molding organs of society has shifted their fulcrum as well.
- On the Right. This might be the smallest contingent. In the past, the practitioners were marginalized and ostracized. A few like Buckley were accorded respect. But in truth they were viewed as quacks to be tolerated for amusement’s sake – but they were not to be taken seriously. What is worse, but sadly true, is that many in these ranks were imposters, faux conservatives. For example, George W Bush, who was viewed by nearly all of society as a conservative, serves as a perfect metaphor. Bush expanded the government and exploded the debt as badly as any card carrying leftist (well until his profligate successor appeared). Incidentally, exactly as Bush begat Obama, so did Hoover beget FDR and Nixon beget Carter. Heaven save us from conservatives like Bush, who, in terms of the visions we have been describing, was blind as a bat.