How Social Conservatives Are Saving Liberalism (Barely)
Reading David Harsanyi's well-reasoned article "Sorry, America Isn't Destined To Be More Liberal" in The Federalist, I was struck once again how we are at a point where only social conservatives can save liberalism. Harsanyi was responding to what he calls "wishful thinking" in a Washington Post op-ed by Steve Rosenthal, a former political director of the AFL-CIO, "America is becoming more liberal."
Harsanyi correctly points out that most of what Rosenthal cites as evidence for this tilt are social issues -- most prominently same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization. And certainly it's true that gay marriage and legalized pot are more popular than ever. Rosenthal also makes the claim that anti-big business feeling is on the rise, as if that were an indication of a preference for liberalism -- or am I mistaken and George Soros is a "small businessman"?
In reality what is really going on is not a liberal revolution but a libertarian one. More Americans than ever, or at least during my lifetime, distrust the federal government and think it's too big. Indeed, in the latest Gallup poll of America's problems, government itself leads the way among our citizens with 21% followed by the economy with 18%. The president's bugaboo, "the gap between rich and poor," registers a paltry 4%.
That doesn't sound like a liberal revival to me, not in the modern statist sense anyway. It sounds like the reverse. As for gay marriage and "le-mar," they have both been on many libertarian agendas forever.
This analysis of the (admittedly macro) political trends in our country tracks well with my personal observation. Being an older guy with a teenage daughter, I have been blessed in many ways -- not the least of which is considerable contact with the younger generation. Much of that contact is circumscribed, but not all of it. Recently I have had the opportunity to interview high school students from many different social classes and ethnicities.
Although I didn't ask them directly about their politics -- that was off the table for the interviews I was conducting -- I got a fair glimpse of their views as time went on just through the flow of the conversation. Worry about their economic future is, not surprisingly, pervasive, but there was practically universal skepticism of government's ability to solve it. They saw themselves as individual actors, libertarian, in most cases, without even realizing it. They were also highly aware of Obamacare and its innate unfairness to the younger generation, as well as its overweening bureaucratic disorganization.