We are undergoing a Great Unwinding of the assumptions that began in the Progressive Era and were embedded in the US under FDR and especially after WWII. In 1896 the forces of what Progressives would call Modernity won over the reactionary forces of a rural Christian America - McKinley (Repub) beat Wm Jennings Bryan (Demo). Interesting is that the election map of 1896 almost exactly matches 2004, except the parties have flipped position - W got the Bryan vote, and Kerry the McKinley vote. The only exception was Ohio, and hence W won.
Globalization makes high wages to unskilled labor untenable. Hence GM and its ongoing brushes with bankruptcy. This will have to be unwound. Wages, pensions, healthcare. Perhaps another 10 years of pain. Most likely we will look back at the social contract given to the unions and supported by government-driven benefits as an anomaly driven by US economic hegemony after WWII.
But the Great Unwinding is deeper than economic. We see the same Unwinding process beginning in Europe with the riots in France, the new anti-subversion laws in Australia and attempted in England, the change of attitude in Holland. It could be framed as Modernity (Europe) vs Religion (Muslims), but it could also be framed as an inevitable consequence of the Welfare State and its presumptions, including overly-generous treatment of ethnic minorities, especially those in France from Algeria, who have responded by testing the very foundations of liberal assumptions.
Conservatives want the melting pot, not the multiculturalism 'boiling pot' that demotes the very values that created liberal society, and promotes The Other. No surprise that if you leave The Other in subsidized communities without productive jobs nor integration into the surrounding community, they eventually rebel, especially when their community/religious centers are allowed to promote hatred against the hand that feeds them. Especially grating to conservatives is the self-destructiveness of celebrating/promoting their different religion by undermining the religion of the majority. In other words, ok for Progressives to castigate Christianity and Christian symbols, but Progressives then back down when riots break out over a caricature of Mohammed. Under the Great Unwinding, liberal Europeans will no longer back down.
Whence comes this hostility to Christianity? Or indeed, the overt hostility to the traditions that created Liberal society? The joyous pulling down of Great Books, of Western Civ, of study of Dead White Male literature, and the substitution of authors of suspect quality and themes hostile to the very Liberalism that Progressives cherish? Hey Hey Ho Ho, Western Civ Has Got To Go!
For years, Conservatives thought Liberals had bad policies, and Liberals thought Conservatives were bad people. Now conservatives think of liberals as laughable idiots at the fringe of intelligent discourse. Liberals have retreated to the Academy. The joke is on them - students of course rebel against The Establishment, and if The Establishment is liberal idiocy in College, they come out cynical and conservative. As has happened. Gen Y shrugs at political correctness, even as it nods to its conventions in order to get A's. My daughter is in a class on The American Musical, and most students are comparing and contrasting musicals on race or gender issues, not because they care, but because they are pandering to the teacher's perceived biases. Yet once out of class, PC-ness is of no consequence other than to be mocked. The kids do not think that they share any prejudice, and thus the foundational assumptions of PC do not apply to them. The old battles no longer resonate.
Conservatives see Liberals as blind to their own presumptions. An example is a recent 'study' that said there are so few Republicans in Academia due to self-selection. Arguments were of this sort of utter nonsense: Conservatives like rural areas, so stay away from urban colleges; or, Conservatives are hostile to science, and prefer religion. Silly when you think about it; are there more Conservatives at Dartmouth than Chicago? Are there more Conservatives in the Humanities than in Science or Economics? Yet the authors thought they were making self-evident statements. The shocking part is this sort of study can circulate in Academia and no Liberal notices its ludicrous presumptions.
A good Liberal friend of mine has noticed these presumptions, and comments:
"We collectively have taken it for granted that such a liberal view of the role of government was so inextricably tied to Modernity that no reasonable person could possibly question its exclusive hold on the American future. In the arrogance of our liberal self-righteousness, we did not work tirelessly to present the rational for such a view to the American people. We just assumed it to be."
How self-perceptive of liberals! But the arrogance is not in failing to work tirelessly, but to assume that only Liberals 'own' Modernity. Liberals presume Conservatives wish to retreat from Modernity. The goal of the Conservative Movement (to the extent it has a common goal - it doesn't, it is a coalition of multiple forces) is not to retreat from the modern world. Most Conservatives favor free trade, globalization, engagement with the world, innovation and progress. The Conservative complaint is not a fight over Modernity but a fight over what Conservatives see as self-destructive policies. It is the Liberals who continue to paint Conservatives as bad people - unfeeling, corrupt, redneck, religious, whatever. The Conservatives want to fix things.
And they often did. Hamilton (the Ur-Republican), not a Liberal, fixed the financial mess of the new republic. Lincoln, not a Liberal, freed the slaves. McKinley, not a Liberal, led us into an industrial nation. Reagan, not Carter, got us out of an economic malaise that Liberalism could not fix. There is good and bad on both sides of the aisle.
God And Abortion
The Great Unwinding extends to the cultural wars. The issue is not Roe vs Wade. Nor is it Intelligent Design. Those are side shows. The Republican leadership understands that the Demo's would be better off politically if Roe is overturned, 'cuz then they can revitalize their grass roots State by State to put abortion laws back on the books. The Repubs are better off this way, railing against the Court but keeping the debate abstract.
Nonetheless, Red America wants to put God back into public life. The impulse is largely the same that makes many people Mormons even though they are suspect of many of the tenets of that religion: they cherish the values and community to raise their kids in. The desire to put God back into public life is from the Intelligentsia of the Conservatives as well as the rednecks. Bill Buckley wanted God back at Yale.
It is easy for Blue America to mock this impulse. Here is an example of what they miss: in the original Scopes trial, the teaching of evolution was coupled with teaching of Eugenics, purifying the race. We don't talk about that now, not since Nazis, and it was removed from the Inherit The Wind movie and play. But looking back, a lot of what Red America was fighting for then, and now, was and is legit to fight over.
Today the issue is not Eugenics, but values. A favorite Demo for the conservatives is Moynihan, who introduced the idea in the '60s that we were starting a process of making normalcy seem deviant and deviancy seem normal, undermining the social fabric. What he had in mind was what happens when we remove shame from public life, particularly around marriage. His fear has been proven correct: today something like 80% of the underclass kids are born to single mothers, fathers are superfluous - not tied down to the responsibilities of parenthood - and young men roam the streets in gangs, with no future. George Gilder picked up this theme in the late '70s, and was hooted out of academic circles. Today Michigan Law Prof. Catharine MacKinnon can write a law review article that all heterosexual sex is rape, even in marriage, and Liberals nod. Conservatives shake their heads at the idiocy, and get emboldened to push for adding God back into the discourse.
The Great Unwinding is being fought in the US Supreme Court. Here again Roe v. Wade is a sideshow. More important to watch is the New Federalism of Scalia, Thomas and perhaps Alito. There are sympathetic with a group of legal scholars, led by a Chicago Law Professor (is Chicago now a rural school?), who wish to unwind the critical Commerce Clause decision of 1938 - the one the Court caved in after pressure from FDR and backed out of limiting Congress's power under the Commerce Clause. FDR attempted to pack the Court to get them to change. They read the political winds and did a quick unwinding of their own. Since then Congress's power to regulate is virtually unchecked.
At the moment this is a minority effort within the Conservative movement - and a fairly abstract one to most Conservatives. There are some high profile cases (the city planning one in Connecticut, the several environmental ones), and a thread of debate in recent decisions. And W would support it to some extent - especially to unwind environmental restrictions on his Big Oil friends. But a broad-based Federalism is certainly not the goal of W and his cronies. They have expanded the size of the Federal Government irresponsibly, and cannot count on the States to follow their lead.
I am thus not sure that unwinding the Commerce Clause is bad for Demo's. It may even be helpful for some limits to arise on the Commerce Clause - as with a change in Roe v Wade, it allows a State by State effort to fight the battle, rebuilding the energy in the grass roots. In particular, it might rebalance environmental issues back to the local level.
The New Debate
The Commerce Clause is not the big battle. Nor is the Liberal Welfare State. The Great Unwinding will tear down the assumptions that led to it in the first place. The Great Unwinding, however, is unlikely to lower the size of the Federal Government. It should, however, change its composition. Instead of welfare or social justice, the mission will be Globalization and Its Discontents: Imperial overreach. Global warming. Alternative energy. Retooling the workforce. Building international institutions. Fending off the last Ism, Islamism. Immigration. Homeland security.
W has made the mission Iraq, undoing environmental laws, pissing on international comity - essentially an America that is above the very laws of international relations we put in place in the first place. Parts of his vision will be quickly unwound, maybe before he leaves office. Other parts will live with us for generations.
The failure of the Demo's is a failure to re-set the agenda. The old agenda is over with - the Great Unwinding. The old battles have been fought and no longer inspire the faithful. Shall we fight over a Supreme Court nominee due to the Commerce Clause? Won't move the needle. The new issues that will face the Court are around globalization: Immigration. Security. Trade. Dumping. Treaties. IP. Environment. Workers rights. Liberation of women. Torture and treatment of prisoners. Taxes. Tragically for Liberals, these are largely Conservative issues. Here is the irony - Conservative justices are more likely to undermine Bush's Imperial lawlessness than Liberal justices, since they will be more tuned and trained on these sorts of issues. On the other hand, they will tend to me be more parochial, more pro-US, and not international in their thinking.
The Demo's are in a position to make Globalization its New Issue. Hillary could frame the next debate as American Unilateralism vs Globalization. But that issue doesn't hunt right now. It takes groundwork.
Over the next 10 years we should see the groundwork being laid, and new leaders emerge. They may emerge on the Right before the emerge on the Left.