A naturally conservative nation
A few years ago I wrote a piece on the
eventual victory of the Left in America. Almost all of the most relevant
indicators pointed in that direction: The mainstream media, the public schools,
colleges and universities, and the major Protestant denominations were dominated
by liberals. There were numerous stories of the federal government increasingly
cracking down on free speech and thought. The traditional family and marriage
were widely ridiculed. Porn was commonplace and available to all. Much of
popular music was anarchic. Tattoos and assorted clips and mutilations were
routine. The welfare state had hooked millions. Secularism seemed to dominate. The
election of Barak Obama, a man of stern leftist ideology, seemed to seal the
argument. America appeared to be on its way toward becoming modern-day England,
a nearly bankrupt nanny state that flaunts its political correctness and base
culture while at the same time being unable to defend itself against the
internal violence generated by its own leftist commitments.
But there is a strong argument to the
contrary, and one of the best sources to consult for documentation is the
Gallup Poll. After surveying more than 10,000 adults across the United States in
the first half of 2011, Gallup and USA Today/Gallup reported numbers that
should encourage conservatives and perhaps curtail a bit of leftist
triumphalism. Today, 41 per cent of Americans call themselves conservatives, 36
per cent say they are moderates, and only 21 per cent declare themselves to be
liberal. What that appears to indicate is that 77 per cent of the public does
not share the leftist agenda that dominates much of contemporary American life.
The sweeping Republican gains of 2010 are perhaps a reflection of this poll data. In my own "purple" state of
Wisconsin, Republican victories were stunning, and included the ouster of
ultra-liberal Senator Russ Feingold, in office since 1993.
Data about the two major political parties
are also revealing. Among Democrats polled, 39 per cent were moderates, 18 per
cent were conservative, and 5per cent were "very conservative." Liberals
came in at 29 per cent while 9 per cent were "very liberal." That
means that even in the party of Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, 62 per
cent are not closely identifying with the leftist agenda. (As of August 16,
according to Gallup, a mere 13 per cent of Americans approved of Congressional
activity. Obama's popularity in early August dropped to 39 per cent; this is in
the Jimmy Carter league.)
Among Republicans, 21 per cent told
pollsters that they were "very conservative," 50 per cent called
themselves conservative, 24 per cent were moderate, and 3 per cent were
liberal. Therefore, 71 per cent of Republicans are neither moderate nor
liberal. Is there still a culture war in America? Of course, even though it
largely involves the better educated (self-declared or actual) who attempt to
mould public opinion.
Among independents, 44 per cent describe
themselves as moderate, 27 per cent are conservative, and 8per cent are
"very conservative." Only 14 per cent of independents are liberal,
and a mere 6 per cent are "very liberal." There again we see the Left
as a distinct minority.
That the hard Left stands at 6 per cent
nationally should be remembered the next time you read the New York Times,
watch CBS News, and go to the movies. America is a largely conservative and
moderate nation. Ideology in 2011, Gallup tells us, is almost the same as it
was in 2009 and 2010. Data from 1992 to the present shows a modest increase in
political polarization, however. The percentage of moderates has declined from
43 per cent to 36 per cent, while the combined liberal and conservative
categories have climbed from 53 per cent to 62 per cent.
How does one explain the leftist domination
of the culture and a public that by large numbers appear to reject much of what
it hears and reads. A great many on the Left simply dismiss the general public
as incapable of understanding "truths" propounded by "the
brights". And the pomposity is not limited to the professoriate. On a more serious intellectual level, there
must be reasons, many of them complex, for the popularity of the Right and
Middle in contemporary America. Let me briefly suggest four.
I'm hardly the first to think that the
Internet has liberated the minds of millions. One does not have to accept the
liberal line in the major media as there are tens of thousands of web pages
devoted to a wide range of opinions on every subject. You watch what you are,
and the variety is endless. The issue of authority, while perplexing, is not
insurmountable. National Review Online and Townhall, for example, present
first-rate commentary and analysis designed for conservatives and others who
simply want a point of view that the major networks and tax-supported PBS and
NPR will not present.
I think too that Fox News and Fox Business
News have opened the doors of intellectual opposition to millions. No, the Fox
outlets are not "fair and balanced." In fact, they present favorable
and informed views of conservatism, libertarianism, and capitalistic doctrine
to a degree that liberals have rarely tolerated in the mainstream media or on
campus. It should not be surprising that Fox is extremely popular with millions
who watch cable and satellite programming.
A third suggestion is not so easily
documented. It may be important that colleges and universities rarely require
courses in the liberal arts and social sciences. This limits the powers of
ideologues to mould minds. Aren't there any conservative professors, say of
history or anthropology? A huge quantity of literature and data answer this
question with a resounding "not to speak of". Their exclusion, in the
halls of tolerance, is deliberate.
In the fourth place, it is illusory to
think of all America as secular. Almost as fast as liberal and
"progressive" churches are dying, conservative churches are
prospering and growing. And not all of them are Protestant and Evangelical;
conservative and traditional Catholics have made major steps in recent years to
reclaim and beauty, dignity, and orthodoxy of the past. They own and operate
the two major Catholic media outlets on television and radio and publish a very
large assortment of books and magazines. Monastic orders that embrace
traditional styles of worship and doctrine are beginning to thrive here and
True, there remain a great many areas of
American life where liberal thought and morals thrive. One thinks immediately
of abortion, political correctness, a dominating federal government and
horrendous debt. But let us refuse to demonize the Left. It has achieved a
great deal in the past; it's a history that should not be ignored or twisted. Still,
let us not forget the Gallup polls telling us that conservatism, moderation,
patriotism, and religious faith still represent the majority view in this
country, however unacceptable it may be to the "brights".
Thomas C. Reeves writes from Wisconsin.
Among his dozen books are Twentieth Century America: A Brief History, and
biographies of John F. Kennedy, Joseph R. McCarthy, Fulton Sheen, Walter J.
Kohler, Jr and Chester A. Arthur.
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