Ever notice that, in the long run, liberals win almost all the political arguments?
Sure, the Right sometimes pushes back against, say, Affirmative Action, or wins passage here and there of a law banning abortion or gay marriage or some new recreational drug. But over the past century the Left has, eventually, won every major battle: they passed the income tax, repealed Prohibition, solidified labor unions, established Social Security, won the Civil Rights battles, financed the War on Poverty, put environmental regulations into law, legitimized feminism, and got bans against trans-fats, public smoking, and plastic bags. Today they’re winning the skirmishes over gay rights and marijuana. Every time, the Right has fought hard and then retreated.
How can this be? American citizens, on average, tend to be conservative. UCLA professor Tim Groseclose believes it’s due to liberal bias in the media. (Calm yourself; there’s some science to this.) On the Political Quotient scale — where zero is super-conservative and 100 is super-liberal — Groseclose pegs the average U.S. adult at somewhere between 25 and 30. But the average voter turns in a ballot with a PQ of roughly 50. Groseclose reckons this is largely because political coverage by mainstream media, whose PQs hover around 60, hands Democratic candidates a 12-point boost at the polls.
Still, if the typical ballot has a PQ of 50, you’d think the outcomes for society would swing back and forth between conservative and liberal. Yet the political middle has ratcheted to the Left consistently over the past several decades. Something’s not adding up.
What if there’s an outside force that moves politics continuously in one direction? And what if conservatives have no real way to stop it?
That outside force could be technology. Think about it: inventions keep changing society, creating new ethical dilemmas. Trains made transportation cheap, while factories offered better wages than subsistence farming, so millions moved to the big cities, where anonymity led to crime waves while disenfranchisement exploded in riots and overcrowding sparked epidemics. Village ways were obsolete; major new policies for managing masses of people had to be put into play.
Then the automobile and the cinema enticed young people out of their homes and into each others’ laps while their parents fretted. Then the Pill broke the dam, and pressure toward sexual freedom became a flood. Media glorified sensuality; unwed mothers became the norm; gays campaigned for greater freedom. The old marital system simply couldn’t adapt. A new approach was needed.
Increased mobility, telephones and media empowered protesters to coordinate at Civil Rights hotspots, where they pushed back against age-old discriminations.
Science discovered facts that ran afoul of Scripture; doubters left churches in droves. Then the Internet and personal computers and mobile devices changed everything, while older people began to feel left behind.
Technology has altered not just our work and playtime but our moral lives as well. Dilemmas abound, especially for those who cling to tradition. Are cities the best places to raise families? Should unmarried youth be free to engage in sex? Must we all make reparations to minorities whom our ancestors mistreated? Is the Bible wrong? What will become of religion? Does the wisdom of the elderly prove useless in today’s fast-changing world? Can somebody show me how to work my tablet computer?
Yet here is how the debate unfolds: the Left says, “We have a plan for change!” and the Right folds its arms and says, “No!”
Three guesses who’s gonna win that round. With no rebuttal beyond “This is wrong!” the Right defaults to the Left.
Most of the creative thinking comes from the Progressive side. They dream up new government programs and plump for institutional changes that support their viewpoint. For the media, these campaigns make news in the most elemental sense: they’re about doing things in a new way. What’s more, who doesn’t love stories where the downtrodden rise up or unfairness is trampled down? No wonder the media swing Left.
When liberals win, we’re stuck — like it or not — with their agenda. There’s rarely anything in the new rules that reflect conservative values. After all, if you’re on the Right, you like things the way they were, and you have no interest in abandoning that to a world of permissiveness. What barricade can you offer except “Don’t do it!” against the Progressive parade? Compromising with license, election after election, amounts to death by a thousand cuts. Conservatives end up waving their arms, trying to stop the oncoming train of change. Eventually they must jump onto the cowcatcher or be run over.
(Great metaphors, eh? I’ll sling a few more before we’re done.)
The chief effect conservatives have on politics is to slow things down. The Right plants its shoe firmly on the brake while the Left shoves a lead foot onto the gas. And we lurch, in fits and starts, along the Leftward road.
People have worked hard to build up institutions and ways of living and rules of the road; must all these hard-earned conventions be cast aside? Some of them, perhaps. But conservatives tend to boycott the process, ceding the field to liberals’ judgments on what’s worth keeping and what isn’t.
For those of us who enjoy a good discussion, politics would be vastly more entertaining if, now and then, conservatives thought up a positive platform for upholding traditions. They could argue for inventive uses for the old ways, making room for the necessary new while protecting what has already been built.
Liberals want to jump into the river of change and swim along with the raging torrent; conservatives would rather build a stout bridge, walk across, and make their way prudently down the dry path. (Conservatives can be judicious.)
So go ahead, Right Wing, save your breath from all the “Don’t Jump!” yowling … and build those bridges!