Via Andrew Sullivan comes this disturbing story, by Paul Beston, claiming that, despite the current administration’s failures, conservatism is alive and kicking. (Fortunately, there are some who disagree.)
Beston notices that Sen. Obama has tried to distance himself from the “liberal” label:
“A lot of these old labels don’t apply anymore,” Obama told the New York Times recently, referring to political terms like “conservative” and “liberal.”
(As an aside, as a liberal, I’m amused by this because Sen. Obama is somewhat too centrist for my taste).
He then claims that this can’t be because of a Republican smear campaign because liberalism “defamed” itself:
Americans learned over several decades what liberalism, at least modern liberalism, was all about. Contrary to some claims that conservatives, in a sinister plot, defamed the word, liberalism did a pretty good job defaming itself: from the anything-goes ethos of the 1960s to radical war protestors, from tax-and-spend government and welfare policies to lax criminal justice, pacifism abroad, and a wide-ranging contempt for the institutions and values of American life, liberals took what had been the dominant political current in American politics and made it into a pejorative term.
Now, I wasn’t around in the 60s or 70s… and I didn’t pay attention to politics in the 80s, but this seems grossly misleading. Is protesting a war that we now measure our mistakes against “radical”? Isn’t “tax-and-spend” one of those defamatory phrases that was attached to “liberal” to disparage it? Is “lax criminal justice” when were weren’t imprisoning 10% of our population utilizing racist minimum sentencing laws? And I don’t even know what “wide-ranging contempt for the institutions and values of American life” means…
So, really… was it so bad?
And I only ask because we can now turn this around… How have the vaunted conservative ideals fared over the last 30-ish years? Let’s start with this graph. Be sure to notice when the lines start to diverge:
Combine this increasing income inequality with the challenges facing us (which I have blogged about before), all of which will require us all to spend more money. This is all well and good for those high income folks, but what about the rest of us? I imagine if those “tax and spend… welfare policies” were fully effective this wouldn’t be as much of an issue…
So, if decades of liberal activities have defamed the term “liberal” shouldn’t the last few decades of conservative activities do the same for “conservative”?
And yet, the Republican primary was a contest to see who could be the most conservative. Sen. McCain seems to have abandoned his “maverick” label to become a mainstream conservative. And everyone seems to think the 80s were a wonderful time; that Reagan is the conservative’s conservative.
Look again and tell me where those lines diverge again?
Is conservatism really all that?