Friday, October 29, 2010

What’s A Liberal? A Conservative? A Moderate? - The Chart

By Gus Bauman.

In antediluvian times (pre-1980), Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives and moderates (yes, moderates were once prevalent in each political party) would work to govern together. It was called “bipartisanship.” It was how simple laws (like civil rights acts, Medicare, environmental statutes) got passed. It was how people were placed on the Supreme Court. It was how economic and fiscal policies were adopted. The easy stuff.

The election of Ronald Reagan changed all that. The iron grip of party primaries, which, state by state, grew to dominance during the 1970’s, led inexorably to narrowly-focused interest groups taking control of each political party, imposing rigid purity tests, and driving out those deplorable moderates to political purgatory. The Republicans clearly have been more ruthless than the Democrats thus far, but, then, we’re just some thirty years into this. People do learn and adapt.

Basically, the Democratic Party has become the Liberal Party. The Republican Party has become the Conservative Party. And the U.S., partisanly speaking, has become the U.K. minus those miraculously brief election campaigns.

That bipartisan political contract we learned about in eighth grade civics class, which governed America for the century following the end of Reconstruction, has lain in tatters for a generation now. The underlying context of realistic entertainments like Allen Drury’s whip-smart novel Advise and Consent (1959) and Gore Vidal’s piercing play The Best Man (1960), faithfully filmed by Hollywood in 1962 and 1964 respectively, has long evaporated, to be replaced by the political “culture war.” And what has all this ideological turmoil actually gotten us? Merely confusion, cynicism, gridlock, anger, Fox Views, and Comedy Central (the one bright spot).

So, to make some sense of it, to cut through that confusion, we need a scorecard, something akin to baseball’s box scores (God bless baseball, the one American constant everyone, from right-wing carnivores to left-wing vegans, can turn to for common comfort, if only for half the year). And heaven knows the mainstream majority, those pesky, hapless moderates, needs to better appreciate how it fits in while wandering about the political wilderness as souls without a party.

Here, then, is their opportunity to distill, to clarify, and then, daringly, to choose a side. Or perhaps, just perhaps, they should remain right where they are — unloved, unwanted (except on election day), yet usually dead-on.