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Slanted perspective

Bob Kuttner argues in The American Prospect that American politics may be close to a "tipping point" in favor of conservatism. His argument is that conservative media, think tanks, foundations, and the like are growing stronger, while liberal ones are growing weaker.

All of this has caused the ideological center of gravity in America to shift steadily to the right, even though polls show most Americans remain fairly liberal on the policy particulars. That is, most Americans say they would pay higher taxes to support things like universal health insurance, high-quality child care, and prescription drugs for all. Most Americans overwhelmingly support the present Social Security system. Most do not want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Most think workers should be paid a living wage and have the right to join unions. So, in a sense, elite opinion is far to the right of mass opinion and the political system is just not offering voters the menu they'd like to see. Political scientist Walter Dean Burnham termed this a "politics of excluded alternatives."

But elite opinion matters immensely, because it sets agendas and contours what politicians think is "mainstream." (So abstinence-only birth control is considered mainstream -- your tax dollars are supporting it -- but universal health insurance, which most Americans want, is considered utopian.)

I wish. Unfortunately, I think this theory says more about Bob Kuttner's politics than it does about America's. Liberals have already won; the reason that conservatives are so much more vocal is because they have more to complain about.

Think about it: what's the last government program that was actually threatened by this supposed conservative dominance Kuttner sees? Is there a single government agency that is in danger of being closed? (The potential reorganization of the INS doesn't count; that's shuffling bureaucracies around, not eliminating them.) What was the recent response to 9/11? It was to federalize airport security personnel, as if making them government workers is going to improve them. The "prescription drug" benefit that Kuttner discusses as though it were a pipe dream was promised by both major party candidates in the last election. There's a debate over how to pay for it, and about whether to provide direct subsidies to individuals or to negotiate reduced costs through Medicare, and whether it can be afforded -- but nobody in the mainstream is saying that it's simply not the government's job to pay for drugs.

What kind of strange political world do we live in where a longshot proposal to privatize two percent of wages in social security is seen as a conservative "tipping point"?


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 19, 2002 2:14 AM.

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