One Conservative Success, And The Counterattack

Isaiah J. Poole

The perversity of conservative failure is that by rendering government incapable or unwilling of doing anything that serves the common good, conservatives have left fewer people willing to trust that government can serve the common good, even when they want it to.

That is the sobering message behind polling data presented at the Failure of Conservatism Conference by pollster Stan Greenberg. “These people have made such a mess of things” that getting people to have faith in government is an uphill struggle,” he said.

The electoral mood is similar to the pox-on-both-your-houses mood that helped elevate independent Ross Perot’s candidacy in the 1990s. “I’m not sure it is a progressive moment. It may be a Perot moment,” Greenberg said.

That appears to be supported by polling data that shows a long decline in support for both political parties and majority support for a president who can compromise with both political parties to get things done.

At the same time, voters show a strong preference for core progressive principles, such as using government to help people who cannot help themselves, community over self-reliance. When you ask voters if they want more government or less, they generally say they want more, by significant margins. But they also, by large margins, don’t trust government.

“We are in an era where the plates have shifted…They simply don’t trust the instrument that we have offered…and that is no small impediment” to getting that done.

Thomas Frank , the author of “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” and the editor of The Baffler magazine, said that the he had been struck by the extent to which conservatives, selling themselves as the protectors of “Reader’s Digest middle America,” has destroyed that America through its

What they have given us is civilization in ebb tide. I say let’s drive the contradiction home with these guys.”

Whenever they had an opportunity to choose between money and the public interest, “they have consistently chosen money, and it is time to make them answer for that.”

Robert Borosage pointed out that the end of the conservative era “is not a fact. It is a contested argument.” That leaves progressives with a fundamental task: Just as there is an ornery man in almost every bar who rails about liberals, progressives need to go into those same bars and rail about conservative failure in ways that hit home with the majority of people who are its victims.

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