I am indebted to Isabel Sawhill for a fine overview of my arguments about the political state of the nation in my new book The New Normal: Finding a Balance between Individual Rights and the Common Good and to Tom Mann for very thoughtful comments. The severest test for a social scientist is predictions. My book went to bed well before the midterm elections. The election clearly confirmed my thesis about the large following that conservatives (in the economic and not in the social sense) command in the United States. This was evident not only in the major wins of the GOP (in Congress, governorships, etc.), but also in that most of the Democrats who lost also campaigned in support of conservative ideas (against ACA, for the Keystone pipeline, against carbon tax, immigration reform, and gun control, etc. ). Moreover, on the foreign policy front, the President recently re-involved the US in the war in Iraq, extended US military involvement in Afghanistan, and started a new front in Syria—all acts favored by the likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
As to the past, Tom Mann states: “Since late 2009, the economy has been growing, unemployment declining, deficits dropping, stock markets climbing, and corporate profits out of sight. Stagnant wages, growing inequality and limited social mobility have limited the gains from this economic renaissance to the upper crust.” Well put. Conservatives could not have done much better by themselves, for themselves. Much more was done for conservative economic and political causes by the Supreme Court, which ultimately also reflects the majority.
I would add that since 2009, the Obama Administration bailed out AIG and the banks but allowed many millions of regular folks to be thrown out of their homes, lose their jobs and benefits, take jobs that pay less, and lose their life savings.
As to Mann’s point that Americans are “operationally liberal”, this is mainly true only if no costs are cited. Typically when asked if they want more goodies from the government, those polled are not told that they will have to pay for these goodies with tax increases, cuts in other goodies, or increases in the deficit. When those are mentioned, as they should be, the support for liberal policies shrinks. Above all, most Americans do not favor reallocation of wealth, a core part of the liberal agenda.
I agree with Tom Mann and Norman Ornstein that the media contributes to the conservative tilt. However, given that this tilt was evident long before Fox and the recent segmentation of the media, I wonder how much weight to assign to this factor.
If the American majority is conservative and the government tends to acts conservative, why are Americans so unhappy? I offer several possible explanations in my new book The New Normal. Most likely this is the case because special interests have captured so many parts of the government that they no longer serve any major segments of the public but heads of hedge funds, oil companies, Medicare mills, et cetera. The Democrats have not succeeded in pointing this out, in part because they are on take from the same interests.
Professor of International Affairs, George Washington University
Here comes the next test: I predict that after the 2016 elections, the conservative GOP will still have a majority in the House and Senate, and whoever is elected president will follow policies that are even less liberal than those of Carter and Clinton and maybe those of Obama.