Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Question for Conservatives

This one was sparked by a new record-length discussion thread here at Plain Blog that spun off from my comments about Drew Westen during the week. In particular, I'm interested in the question of whether conservatives and liberals believe that the years beginning in 1980 were in fact an era of conservative triumph, either ending in 2006 and 2008, or perhaps continuing right up to the present.

So, how do you think of the last 30 years of American politics? Has it been a Reagan era, with conservative policies winning? Or has it basically been a liberal era, despite occasional Republican electoral victories? If in between, is it closer to one than the other? And if it was a conservative era, is it still, or did it end with Barack Obama's presidency?


  1. Economic policy has been on Reagan's terms since 1980 with tax cuts and deregulation. I think tax cuts are at a dead end as an issue and deregulation has stopped since 2008.

    I don't see how some one could think conservative politics has been winning outside of economic policy and gun rights. Women serve in military combat. Children born outside of marriage keep expanding. Some states have homosexual marriage. Two big new entitlements have been enacted.

  2. I think the folks over on the liberal thread mainly have it right, that the Republicans have mostly dominated the discourse over the past 30 years, while the nation has, in terms of social policy, largely continued its leftward march - net of the police state issues also raised over there.

    The only thing I could add is how remarkable it is to recall that we all woke up on February 19, 2009 - less than 3 years ago - thinking the Tea Party was a revolutionary-era action against the Brits. (Well, all of us save Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann of course).

    The stunning, and I would guess, unprecedented speed by which the Tea Party has gained such reach in Republican circles is a pretty good indication that any electoral/discourse victories for the Republicans have mostly come at the price of their ideology. YMMV.

  3. Conservative policy has been winning in just about every area. How about our wars? You think Michael Moore thinks we have a liberal foreign policy? How about environmentalism? Like that BP oil spill did you, think that's a sign about how powerful the Green Lobby is on capital hill? How about the courts? How about all those Federalist Society judges everywhere? How about that Supreme Court ruling which gutted the tragic McCain Feingold bill on campaign finance (was that liberal, or simply common sense? Is McCain a liberal to you?) Think the ACLU would agree with you? I don't get it -- a couple of gay people get married and you're all running around congratulating one another on how the libruls win on social policy. That's absurd. The onlyy area I would argue things have changed is with womens' rights, although in areas like sexual harassment we can see in the unequal responses met by Herm Cain and jerry Sandusky we still don't like women all that much. But in terms of womens' economic equality, things have changed a lot: women outnumber men not only in college but in law and med school; most of the jobs lost in the recession were men's work, women now outnumber men in the work force. That's an enormous change which is not yet reflected in our politics or boardrooms, or our tv screens. Maybe chicks can fix this mess. I'm inclined to let them try, cause they sure can;t do any worse.

  4. The most striking thing has been the expansion in the power of the presidency, particularly in the past ten years. We’ve had two recent wars, for which the consensus is that one was a costly mistake and the other was, and perhaps continues to be, a mismanaged and unsustainable fiasco. In spite of this swing in public opinion, Obama has managed to not only maintain the power of the Presidency, but vigorously expand it in places. Expert opinion would probably score this as a “win” for the Obama presidency, but it’s definitely a loss for those of us who want a noninterventionist foreign policy.

  5. You think the power of the presidency has expanded under Obama? The guy has been completely neutered, reduced to nothing much aside from running for office. You think his powers are greater than LBJ's were (maybe you're a kid who doesn't remember what a real president could do). You think Obama is more powerful than Nixon or Reagan? Are you nuts? Yes, Bush, usurped all kinds of constitutional authority, capitalizing on 9/11 and so on to enact all kinds of lethal stuff, but todays' Congress will barely let Obama go to the men's room without permission. Get real.

  6. " todays' Congress will barely let Obama go to the men's room without permission. Get real. "

    Obama went to war in Libya without bothering to consult Congress not to mention getting a declaration of war. Obama treated the UN as having being more importance then Congress.

  7. Well yes, Bush taught Obama that a president can always start wars withoutCongressional approval so he tied up with NATO. What else you got? Where is all that landmark stuff Obama has been racking up lately, over a pliant and demoralized congress?

  8. Yeah, I'd agree. The foreign policy legacy of Obama will be that he started a war without consulting Congress. The Afghanistan troop count quadrupling is major, but not as longterm consequential. It will end, but the precedent of unilateral war may not... ever.

    I'd say the only lasting thing over the last 30 years is the acceptance of supply side economics. Even Obama signed off on it, much as he had to be dragged there. And Clinton didn't need much dragging. And supply side economics was first spoken of by Kemp/Roth, yes, but it was also championed by Lloyd Bentsen and the Boll Weevil Democrats in the House. So it's always been pretty much bipartisan, although the Left is making a big push to change that settled policy these days.

    The government beast grows massively. That too is bipartisan. The tribalists can rant, but I don't see what it is they're ranting about. They'd have a reasonable rant if they properly reinvented government, and shed what's stupid and not needed and plainly unaffordable, but nobody wants to do that. And it's bipartisan.

  9. Dear commenter: Yes, there’s Libya, for which Obama had no Congressional approval -- Bush had some limited Congressional approval for his action in Iraq, although not the declaration of war that some of us foolishly expected. Obama has expanded the use of drones and even conducted a targeted killing of a US citizen overseas. The Patriot Act has been renewed with Obama's support. Obama copied Bush’s surge policy in Afghanistan. Granted, I blame Bush more for getting the ball rolling in these areas, but Obama has pretty much stayed the course.

    And of course Congress has willingly granted or tolerated this expansion of Presidential powers across the board. I really don’t see how Congress has “neutered” Obama’s national security policy in any way.

    Anon: Yes, partisanship has obscured the great Guns and Butter consensus we’ve been operating under.

  10. Supply side economics is settled policy, Anonymous? Really? Supply Side economics was what cratered the economy and destroyed the middle class. If you destroy unions and your work force in favor of corporate interests, you make a bunch of rich people richer but you destroy the middle class and they're the ones who buy the junk that the rich people want to sell. If standrrd of living for all but the top 1% craters, you have no markets to sell your stuff. if you have no one to buy your products, the economy crashes. We tried that experiment and you're right, for 30 years, we watched you guys tell us how Supply Side and Trickle Down would shower us with wealth. All it really was was a crafty marketing tool from the pr forms to justify deregulation and tax cuts for the rich. Think that's settled policy today? You obviously don't get out much.

  11. Supply side economics has been great for China, however, since they're the ones now making all the junk we buy. I suppose if you hate America and want it to fail and love China and want their economy to topple ours, Supply Side makes a lot of sense.

  12. Impossible to look at the collapse of the post-war social-democratic consensus as purely an American phenomenon. It's a 30-year, at a minimum, secular trend right across the developed world, right back to the oil shocks and inflation of the 70's -- and that's before the rise of China, and before India's embrace of the outside world.

    It's not enough to look just at Reagan, or even Reagan and Thatcher, without also looking at the Mitterand government's embrace of privatization, the end of Clause 4 of Labour's charter to Clinton's Third-Wayism, the disappearance of the Italian left...

  13. Yes, Davis, that's true. The evils of laissez faire, Social Darwinist capitalism had been quarantined after the Great Depression but eventually they were unleashed and sent back out to contaminate economies all over the world. Riich people don't like strong unions and regulations that limit their profits here as well as Europe. What is so berserk is that people think all this was some new idea of Milton Friedman's. It wasn't. If you read the orthodoxies of the Coolidge, Harding and Hoover administrations, you will find the same nostrums about unshackling capital, harnessing the worker, getting government out of the way. Yet today's righties have all convinced themselves that this is some radical new prescription which is bound to work because it all made so much sense when Sean Hannity described it. Back in the Reagan days, (which begat Thatcher and influenced Mitterand as you describe) America was still reeling from the assassinations, Vietnam and Watergate and Reagan seemed awfully sure of himself, so the door was unlatched and in he came. This GE spokesmodel's rise to power emboldneed rich people in Europe to sell the same rebranded laissez fair bullshit over there. Some were able to resist it, like the Scandinavian countries, but most thought America was cool and the Soviets were nasty, so they climbed aboard the crazy train. I remember England during the worst of Thacher - huge strikes, malaise so thick you could sop it up with a sponge. But suddenly London looked brighter and more tourists showed up, and that seemed to be all that mattered. What we had then was the facade of a thriving society, which obscured the misery and dysfunction beneath... Thirty years later, we don;t even have the pretty facade anymore. It all looks defunct.

  14. A glib, pilfered line:

    In his first term: ended the Great Recession, health care reform, Wall Street reform, student loan reform, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, New START, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the biggest overhaul of our food-safety laws in 70 years, new regulation of the credit card industry, new regulation of the tobacco industry, a national service bill, expanded stem-cell research, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, net neutrality, the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years, health care for 9/11 rescue workers, and the confirmation of two Supreme Court justices.

    Oh, and he killed Osama bin Laden, too.

    And now compare that to the last guy.

    Note too, that's outdated.

  15. Well, I don't think if you asked most Americans they would agree that Obama ended The Great Recession, nor do I think they would agree that very much of this has mattered much in their lives, sadly. Wall Street Reform? Really? If you read Ron Susskind's Confidence Men you will see what a truly pyrhhic victory this was, and how Obama tossed real reform out the window so as to placate Geithner and Summers (and Rahm.) Ask Volcker if he agrees with you, for that matter. And ask the millions of Americans rising up OWS because they have no faith in government leadership in terms of bringing our financial class under control. START treaty, ok, that's nice, and Lily Ledbetter is nice, and credit card companies got their wrists slapped, a little, but the average consumer still has enormous things to fear from the banks, and again, the people now are withdrawing money from the predator banks because they despair of leadership reining those guys either). Regs of tobacco agency, that's nice, national service bill, restoration of stem cell research, all of that is worthy and good, and what you would expect from a democratically elected president. Net neutrality ok. Student loans are still berserk. And a lot of this feels like closing the barn door after the cows are gone - so what we're left with is killing Bin Ladeni and DADT. Not Mt Rushmore, in my opinion. Let's now look at all he could have done - and the actual state of the country - and weep. The hated Drew Westen said it best - ask the average middle class American if Obama's presiency has been a huge success and if he has made their lives better, and they will laugh in your face. Which is why he is polling around 40% in the real worl;d if not on these boards. If you asked the average American this question about FDR, or (gasp) Reagan, what would he say?


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