E.J. Dionne’s column should give you some holiday cheer.
In 1984 three exit polls pegged Ronald Reagan’s share of the ballots cast by Americans under 30 at between 57 and 60 percent. Reagan-style conservatism seemed fresh, optimistic and innovative. In 2006 voters under 30 gave 60 percent of their votes to Democratic House candidates, according to the shared media exit poll. Conservatism now looks old, tired and ineffectual.
I noticed years ago that the rank-and-file “movement conservative” is younger than I am. Well, OK, most people are younger than I am. But surely you’ve noticed that a disproportionate number of True Believers are people who reached their late teens / early twenties during the Carter or Reagan years at the earliest. They came of age at the same time the right-wing media / think tank infrastructure began to dominate national political discourse, and all their adult lives their brains have been pickled in rightie propaganda.
But now it seems much of the new crop o’ young’uns are looking at the freak show that movement conservatism has become, and saying, holy bleep.
When the right seemed headed to dominance in the early 1990s, the hot political media trend was talk radio and the star was Rush Limbaugh, a smart entrepreneur who spawned imitators around the country and all across the AM dial.
Is it me, or has rightie talk radio become a tad dÃ©classÃ©e?
Now the chic medium is televised political comedy and the cool commentators are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Their brilliant ridicule of the Bush administration and conservative bloviators satisfies a political craving at least as great as the one Limbaugh once fed. Stewart and Colbert speak especially to young Americans who rely on their sensible take on the madness that surrounds us. The young helped drive their popularity, and the Droll Duo in turn shaped a new, anti-conservative skepticism.
I like to think that the liberal blogosphere made Stewart and Colbert possible. I remember when the old Media Whores Online site seemed deliciously seditious. Then sedition bloomed on thousands of blogs, broke out of the Internets and into mass media, and became The Daily Show.
Of course, just because the young folks are waking up to the sham of contemporary American conservatism doesn’t mean they’re ready to embrace liberalism. And that may be just as well; it’s not healthy to bounce from one ‘ism” to another. Be skeptical, young folks. Think for yourselves. No one ideology has all the answers. Resist being programmed by anybody.
Since the 1970s, supply-side conservatives have been brilliantly successful in redefining economic thinking. They shifted the popular focus from workers to entrepreneurs, from incomes to wealth, from job creation to share-price increases, and from government policy innovation to private-sector autonomy.
Suddenly economic inequality is a problem even conservatives are taking seriously. Corporate America is looked upon, let us say, in less heroic terms. Economic security is no longer a dirty phrase, and staunch capitalists aren’t quite so eager to preach the virtues of “creative destruction” to displaced industrial workers. Government — with some wariness, to be sure — is being invited back into the economic story to redress grievances and to right imbalances.
Government isn’t the solution to all problems, but it’s actually quite good at addressing some problems. I’m tired of talking heads on television preaching that government can’t be used for anything but making war and protecting embryos.
I mean, all the other industrialized countries have national health care; why can’t we?
At this point I wouldn’t mind placing a moratorium on all ideologies. We need to re-think basic questions, like Why is there government? A smart commenter named Patrick wrote, “A particular kind of libertarian ideology has permeated virtually all levels of public discourse in the US: the notion that Capitalism rather than representative self-government is our founding principle.” I agree. And in recent years I’ve been stunned by the number of people I run into in political forums and on blogs who don’t understand what “representative self-government” means.
The comment thread of a previous post became infested (before I closed it) with libertarians who worship the Constitution as Holy Writ yet dismiss representative self-government as blasphemy. To claim that the Constitution was not created to be an instrument for representative self-government is like claiming a piano isn’t an instrument for playing music. In fact, that’s the point of it.
I hope the young folks are growing weary of being told what they can’t do and what they can’t have because movement conservatism (or libertarianism, or some other ism) says so. Maybe in the years to come they’ll be willing to consider what we can do — for ourselves, and our posterity — if we choose.