Friday, October 31, 2008

Krauthammer's imaginary America

At the end of a pro-McCain domestic policy column (made up in large part of actions he predicts Obama will take with no basis in fact) Charles Krauthammer writes the following:
McCain is the quintessential center-right candidate. Yet the quintessential center-right country is poised to reject him. The hunger for anti-Republican catharsis and the blinding promise of Obamian hope are simply too strong.
You expect Krauthammer's melodrama, of course, it's his thing. But I'm getting sick of conservatives simply stating that the country leans conservative without the slightest nod to the reality of the American views. Michael Gerson makes a related case, suggesting that a rejection of McCain wouldn't be a rejection of conservatism and an embrace of liberalism, per se, but includes this twisted bit of logic.
Still others are eager to translate a loss for McCain as a national rejection of conservatism. This would, of course, require McCain -- the author of campaign finance reform, the supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, the proposer of a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions -- to actually be a conservative symbol. Initially it was McCain's heresies, not his orthodoxies, that made him a plausible candidate.
In other words, a McCain loss wouldn't be a referendum on conservatism since McCain isn't really a conservative and he only had a chance in this election because he's not a conservative.

If you bought this argument, wouldn't you have to read McCain's selection as the Republican candidate as the first of several rejections of conservatism, a rejection came from Republicans themselves?

The truth is that Americans, when one looks at individual issues, are actually left-of-center. For example, a Gallup poll conducted in April did find that small majority of Americans--52 percent--feel that their taxes were too high, which would seem to validate the "conservative America" thesis. But, when you look at the rest of the poll, you find that 60 percent of those surveyed felt the amount of taxes they paid were fair, compared to the 35 percent who called them unfair. And, when asked if "different groups" were "paying their fair share in federal taxes, paying too much, or paying too little," the respondents answered thusly:
Judging these economic views by the standards set by McCain "economic ideas" man Joe the Plumber, the United States is not only not conservative, it's downright commie. Of course, this chart clearly shows that Obama's plan to have people who, like him, make "a lot more than $250,000 a year, pay[] a little bit more so that the waitress who is surviving on minimum wage can put a roof over her head" is in line with the beliefs of most Americans.

And we haven't even touched on cultural issues, another area where large majorities of Americans agree with the policies of the left. Only by defining conservatism in the squishiest terms--"(T)o be conservative be driven by a fundamental human impulse to preserve what one has and loves," wrote Jon Meacham in the the October 27th Newsweek--can conservatives claim to have a majority of Americans on their side. I'd bet even Hugo Chavez wants to preserve what he has and loves. How, in fact, could any human being not be described in this way?

It is true fewer people self-identify as liberals, but, as Rick Perlstein points out in Meacham's article, "There's been a concerted 30-year propaganda campaign to make the word 'liberal' synonymous with all that's distasteful and alarming." In the process, the word has come to simply mean bad for many people who actually agree with liberal policies.

I'm not the first to make this argument and I won't be the last, because Republicans will argue after the election that voters either chose Obama because McCain wasn't conservative enough or chose McCain because he really was a conservative all along.

It's time now to quit conceding this argument to conservatives; to quit allowing them to simply slip the "America leans right" meme into their conversation (and the subtext of their assumptions) unchecked; to quit letting them say Obama is winning just because he has run an excellent campaign. When they win, America has endorsed their principles, when we win, we just ran a better campaign. The truth is, Obama is winning not just because he's a skilled, natural candidate, but because, at their core, Americans and he share a belief system.


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