Two Visions, but Blindness Everywhere
A common lament these days is that Washington is so polarized that it cannot get anything done. The Democratic Party -- dominated by its ultra-liberal wing since the nomination of George McGovern -- has an insatiable appetite for large government and increased federal spending, and an obsession with multiculturalism, gay rights, affirmative action, global warming, and "Wall Street greed." Simultaneously, the Republican Party -- now heavily influenced by its TEA Party elements -- insists on lower taxes, reduced federal spending, deregulation, anti-abortion policies, and the repeal of Obamacare. This extreme divergence of fundamental views explains why compromise is increasingly impossible, resulting in a paralytic government gridlock that prevents the nation from addressing its most pressing problems.
While there are two very distinct visions for America competing for the allegiance of the American people, that dynamic has not been in play for most of the last century. As I described in an article published several years ago, "Different Visions," the leftist playbook was written by the Progressive-era Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, who asserted: One need only capture the culture. The politics will follow. And that is exactly what the leftists did over the last century. Through an unremitting assault on many fronts, the left took control of all the opinion-forming organs of American society: the media, educational establishment (lower and higher), the legal profession, foundations and libraries, the government bureaucracy and the unions, the marketing industry, and (to a certain extent) the upper echelons of big business. Once the people's mindset was converted from individual liberty to collective equality, security, and order, it was easy to convince them to implement the political changes that enabled the conversion of America from a free society into a statist society.
The left's cultural assault was broad, sustained, relentless, and purposeful. The right -- naively assuming that things would naturally stay the way they always had been -- wasn't even paying attention. A few noticed (e.g., William Buckley), but for the most part, traditionalists and conservatives did not appreciate that the fundamental organs of society that supported and maintained the traditional American culture were being subverted and diverted to something radically different. It is only in recent times that a substantial portion of traditional America has awakened to the radical leftist revolution that has swept the country and which threatens to kill the historic society that America embodied. Previously, and perhaps still, the framework for the national political/cultural conversation was set entirely by the left, and it was little noted -- by any on either side -- that the axioms assumed by all who engaged in the conversation were biased strongly toward the left end of the spectrum.
Now, how has the one-sidedness of our national political/cultural conversation been accorded recognition across the land? Simple: it hasn't! With few exceptions, the American people have been largely blind to the vast transformation that occurred in our society over the course of the twentieth century. To illustrate, note that in presidential debates, candidates argue over how to run the government more efficiently, or who will start or streamline which program that will most "benefit" the public. But the question of the nature of our Republic, how or even whether we should remain true to our founding principles, or which is more important -- liberty or equality...these questions never come up. It does not occur to the moderator to ask them, nor does the failure to do so disturb either the candidates or the watching public.
It may be that there is some clarity regarding political vision today, but in the recent past, America's perception of where it stood politically and culturally in relation to its historical practices has been that of a blind man. The blindness manifests in somewhat different ways according to one's place in the political spectrum. For example, those on the left take absolutely for granted that a progressive agenda is the only agenda that is suitable for America. They take it as axiomatic that any intelligent person recognizes and accepts the appropriateness of that agenda. Having achieved a dominance of the American political/cultural scene that they could only have dreamed of in 1911, the left considers it normal and permanent, and an abomination (not to mention a surprise) whenever it is challenged in any way by someone on the right.
Next, consider those in the middle -- likely the largest category of people. Those who don't see themselves as ideological leftists or rightists -- but rather practical, sensible, compromise-friendly independents -- are blithely unaware that the conversation has tilted tremendously. Such people often have a weak sense of history and little appreciation for the social and economic consequences of a century of collectivist programs, and they are easily swayed by the bromides of a slick politician. They do not see how the fulcrum on the political spectrum has been shifted precipitously to the left. They consider themselves centrists, but do not understand that the positions they take and programs they support are collectivist. A lifetime of exposure to the leftist-dominated opinion-molding organs of society has shifted their fulcrum as well.
Finally, consider those on the right -- likely the smallest contingent. In the past, the practitioners were marginalized and ostracized. A few like Buckley were accorded respect. In truth, they were viewed as queer ducks to be tolerated for amusement's sake -- but they were not to be taken seriously.
The hope is that the Obama-Pelosi-Reid axis of evil has behaved so egregiously and so transparently that a substantial portion of America can now at last see. A new cadre of true conservatives has been created. Their task is to somehow reach the vast muddled middle. If that contingent can be awakened to what has happened and their complicity in it, perhaps there is a chance to right the ship. Perhaps then people will realize that the competing visions for America held by the left and right are irreconcilable. It makes no sense to be "in the middle"; it does not reflect a coherent worldview, but rather a non-Solomonic willingness to split the baby. It is the job of those with the "right" vision to bring sight to those in the middle who are willing to see.