Saturday, February 23, 2008

The End of Conservatism

I came across another great Fareed Zakaria essay in last week’s Newsweek that really put the conservative movement into historical context for me. I think I tend to assume that the way things are today is the way things have always been--but then, I didn’t live through the change-crazy 60’s and 70’s. In the essay, entitled “The End of Conservatism”, Zakaria suggests that the conservative movement was born out of those years and became popular “because it proposed solutions appropriate to the problems of the age—a time when socialism was still a serious economic idea, when marginal tax rates reached 70 percent, and when the government regulated the price of oil and natural gas, interest rates on checking accounts and the number of television channels. The culture seemed under attack by a radical fringe. It was an age of stagflation and crime at home, as well as defeat and retreat abroad. Into this landscape came Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, bearing a set of ideas about how to fix the world.” Put into that context, I feel like I can finally understand what the Conservatives are thinking. Growing up in a world like that could lead you to believe that conservative policies were the answer. Not to mention that fact that some of those policies did make American lives better.

However, Zakaria goes on to suggest that those policies no longer offer answers to our problems. Although many people still consider themselves conservatives, on an issue-by-issue examination, the majority of Americans have moved to the center or even to the left. “Public support for prescription-drug benefits ranges from 80 to 90 percent….A majority of Americans regard the Bush tax cuts as "not worth it," and would prefer increased spending or balancing the budget to cutting taxes….According to the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans who believe that military force can reduce the risk of terrorism dropped sharply between 2002 and 2006, from 48 percent to 32 percent.” All of this is not to say that everyone is climbing on board the old-fashioned liberal bandwagon and demanding more government services, oversight, and spending--“They don't want bigger government—a poll last year found that a majority (57 percent) still believe that government makes it harder for people to get ahead in life—but they do want a smarter government, one that can help them be safe, secure and well prepared for political and economic challenges. In this context, conservative slogans sound weirdly anachronistic, like watching an old TV show from ... well, from the 1970s.

So I guess the ideologies have changed on both sides of the spectrum. And as usual, it turns out we have a lot more in common than we thought.

Seriously, read the article. It’s very good.

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