After presenting “the Conservative Dilemma” in my previous essay, let me complete the discussion by showing the challenges facing the liberals.
Conservatives (the Right) and liberals (the Left) are convenient terms for labeling two opposing groups of citizens in American society. Conservatives favor the Republican Party whereas liberals gravitate to the Democratic Party. The clash between the two major political parties mirrors the ideological differences between Left and Right. The distinction is by no means clear-cut since one can have a conservative view on some issues and a liberal view on some others. In any case, the quarrels between the two camps often lead to high drama in American politics.
As far as ideas go, liberals are less handicapped by absolutism and contradictions as conservatives. Why? Liberals tend to have an open mind for new ideas and trends. They are more ready to abandon the old and embrace the new. Thus, in the fast-changing world of today, liberals are less frustrated because they adapt to the new trends readily, especially the younger generation. On the contrary, the fortress mentality of conservatives has caused them to become angry and noisy like the Tea Party has demonstrated in recent years.
The challenges facing the liberals lie in three areas: articulation of ideas, implementation of policies, and fighting the conservative opposition.
Articulation of ideas
Liberals have the advantages of number and age as seen in the votes cast by young people, women, Hispanics and blacks. Their diversity spans the full income range including self-made millionaires, artists, skilled professionals, entrepreneurs, middle-income workers, college students, and the poor and dispossessed. On the other hand, this diversity also brings vast differences in opinions and goals. That is why liberals used to have difficulties in articulating their common goals, which are important for political organization. If the Democratic Party fails to bring all the constituents together by articulating their common goals, it will lose its number and age advantages in elections.
One single factor favoring the liberals is the explosion of the Internet, mobile phones and social media. The Obama team is quick to take advantage of this new phenomenon. It helps them reach out to their constituents, thereby has succeeded in winning two consecutive elections.
The other factor is that liberals are getting wiser in political organization. Besides fostering a widespread grass-root movement, they employ simple but more meaningful slogans to counter the simplistic conservative versions. These include: “Yes we can”, “Forward”, “The middle class”, and “We are the 99%”.
Implementation of policies
After winning an election, the implementation of new policies is the next challenge. This applies to both political parties. The Democratic Party has messed up badly in the past such as the Vietnam War (1964-68), the Iranian hostage crisis (1979), and high inflation and interest rates (1979). All of them resulted in an election loss.
The Republican Party also has its own failures, notably during the Bush years from 2000 to 2008. These include two foreign wars on borrowed funds, a financial meltdown leading to a worldwide recession, and the squandering of a large federal surplus resulting in a huge deficit. This has given the liberal Democrats a strong argument for reforms in many areas including foreign policy, health care, immigration, taxation, and oversight of the financial sector.
New policies always have their supporters and opponents. In 2010, the cutthroat fight for passage of the Affordable Health Care Act has inflicted a heavy loss of Congressional seats on the Democrats. Despite its controversies, this Act (now known as Obamacare) is a crowning achievement for the president because his predecessors, Bill Clinton and others, could not deliver health care reform. Yet, it created a strong backlash as seen by the rise of the Tea Party consisting of conservative Republicans on the far Right. Their anger led the Republican Party to stonewall all other reforms just to oppose the president, thereby creating an infamous gridlock in the US Congress where nothing gets done.
The year 2013 looks different after the Republican Party was defeated decisively in the November election. The stars now seem to be aligned for the passage of other major reforms, notably, ending the war in Afghanistan after Iraq, comprehensive immigration, reducing the federal deficit, financial sector oversight, energy independence, and hopefully, climate change. Now it all depends on how well the reforms are enacted and implemented by the Democrats in the years to come.
Fighting the conservative opposition
Although smaller in number and older in age, the conservatives have mustered heavy financial support from big business. The two are inextricably tied together by the common philosophy of small government, minimal regulation, low taxation, and unfettered business practice. Does this work? Well, the financial meltdown and the great recession of 2008 have provided the best practical answer. The resultant economic disaster has largely invalidated the conservative policy. Nevertheless, they remain a strong force to be reckoned with, especially the financial wherewithal at their disposal.
Conservative ideas are old and worn, too, besides being simplistic. They continue to offer the same decades-old recipes for solving the nation’s problems regardless how much the world has changed. As a consequence, an increasing number of people find their ideas antiquated. The following is a sampling of their recipes, none of which addresses the real problems facing the nation:
Government: the smaller the better regardless how advanced the US economy has become. Anyone advocating a bigger role for government is branded communist, socialist, or even Hitler. Obama received the rare honor of all three.
Federal deficit: Following the last deep recession, the deficit balloons because of revenue loss from taxes for the government, where the large reduction of payroll cannot even compensate. The conservatives use this recession deficit as an excuse to cut government expenditure even further. They never mention that the Reagan deficit was replaced by the Clinton surplus when the economy went through a high-tech boom in the 1990s.
Taxation: the lower the better. They say low taxes create jobs but can never explain why. Questions to ponder: Do companies hire more workers because of lower taxes or bigger demands? Do companies still hire if there is no market out there even though taxes are reduced to zero?
Big business: Again, just lower taxes more. “Corporations are people” according to Mitt Romney, who lost the last election. Although supposedly to create jobs, US corporations outsource production and layoff millions of Americans just for big profits overseas. Furthermore, why do top executives get millions in bonuses while the workers’ wages remain stagnant all these years?
To fix the economy: Just lower taxes some more. We’ve heard this so many times already. Lower taxation is not the magic wand. The economy is much more complicated. Please wake up!
Foreign policy: America is the greatest! We are all patriots! We fight for freedom and democracy! Question: Would they have invaded Iraq if that country had no oil?
Education, infrastructure, research and development: They say America cannot afford it. If America can’t, other countries will fill the vacuum. That’s how the world competes.
Health care and social welfare: Let the market take care of it. Only socialists or communists do those damned things! Those people who need such services are lazy and dependent on government for handouts. “They are the 47% I don’t have to care about”, Mitt Romney again.
Social security: Privatize it! Tell them to invest their retirement savings in the stock market. Are you puzzled by their weird logic? I would not be so stupid to entrust my hard-earned money to the stock market.
Gun control: They say, “Guns don’t kill. People kill. Don’t take away my rights to bear arms” (including machine guns and armor-piercing bullets). Let everybody buy a gun for self-protection. Will this twisted logic work? Think and think again!
The environment: The environment should be exploited to the fullest to create jobs (for the public to hear), and to fatten our own pockets (hush! hush!) People who care about the environment are nuts! Climate change is just a hoax invented by the scientists!
I think the above list is long enough to give you a flavor of American conservative thinking. Despite their twisted logic, the conservative ideas are not that easy to counter in a public debate where a few seconds of sound bites tend to draw most attention. Nevertheless, the liberals have made an effective rebuttal in the last election. Some examples:
“Bin Laden is dead. GM is alive!” Joe Biden on the desirable role of government in fighting terrorism and recession.
“It’s the arithmetic!” Bill Clinton saying that the figures do not add up in the conservative plan to balance the federal budget.
“Help Main Street and fix Wall Street”, “The middle class is suffering”, and “They are the party of no”. These catch phrases are repeated countless times in the Democratic political campaign.
In short, countering the conservative opposition requires telling the truth in a language simple enough for the public to understand and to support. This is coupled with effective grass-root organization to bring the majority voting power to bear. Furthermore, the push must be done gradually but surely to lessen the chance of an angry backlash from the far Right. It’s all about doing the right thing for the people in today’s complex world. Doing the right thing means improving the conditions of the country as a whole, rather than merely serving the narrow interests of some special groups.