By: Nicky Barone
As Noam Chomsky put in an interview with “The Young Turks,” America’s political landscape has come to be defined by two political parties: a moderate conservative party and a political phenomenon that is so extreme and right-wing in ideology that it can barely be considered a political party. He is referring to the modern Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. The ideological attitudes of the American people have changed significantly in the last thirty years. When CBS News asked voters to categorize themselves in February 1976, 28% called themselves conservative, 23% called themselves liberal, and 39% called themselves moderate. By June 2010, those numbers had shifted to 35% conservative, 18% liberal, and 42% moderate. Starting with President Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s, federal taxes have been lower than they had been since the early 20th century and have remained relatively low. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat who is considered the more liberal of the two parties, ended many federal welfare policies and enacted many business-friendly trade laws that began sending many manufacturing jobs overseas. The liberal concepts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs, which aimed at reducing poverty, improving infrastructure, aiding the economy through federal aid, and creating jobs, have declined in size and scope. Conservatives and right-wing activists considered such programs as detrimental to economic competition, a waste of government spending, and allowing the federal government to have too much power. Reasons for this shift vary: conservatism often plays to a person’s patriotism, which is an important staple of the American psyche. In addition, conservatism can often be equated with individualism and fiscal responsibility which, regardless of truth, are qualities valued within the United States.
The rightward shift, beginning in the 1980’s, made the words “liberal” and “socialist” have negative connotations. Detractors of President Obama have accused him of being a “Marxist” or “socialist,” especially due to his support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which overhauled the nation’s health care system by increasing health care coverage and affordability. Such a massive federal program is regarded as frivolous by many conservatives and regarding insurance as a commodity, not a right that people are entitled to. I have two issues with critics assertions of Obama being a socialist: 1. Obama is not a socialist. He has been a tribune of private businesses, saving many private businesses from failure or bankruptcy. A true socialist would have created an act that nationalized the health care industry and eliminated private insurance coverage altogether. 2. Why is “socialist” used as a term of derision in American politics? Let’s take a look at the actual definition of socialism. “Socialism”-A political theory or system in which the means of production and distribution are controlled by the people and operated according to equity and fairness rather than market principles. Our country has employed many socialist-esque pieces of legislation in the past century: for example, as previously mentioned, the New Deal programs of FDR, the Medicaid program, Social Security, federalized mail, welfare programs, and numerous others.
This rightward shift is detrimental to our nation as a whole. Liberal principles of fairness, equity, social responsibility, and a broad federal government allow the most vulnerable members of society to be protected from societal ills and the corruption of the private sector. A strong federal government allows for better infrastructure, which benefits the public and creates jobs, welfare to protect the impoverished, a financial safety net for the retired and elderly, and many educational institutions to serve the public. Liberal principles have been abandoned since the Democratic Party has been taking very moderate, if not sometimes blatantly conservative, stances on a variety of issues simply to appease the Republicans in Congress, who have gone completely off the deep end with conservative extremism. While the Voting Rights Act was being discussed by the Supreme Court, areas in Texas and other Southern States, had legislation circulating that made it more difficult for minorities to vote in early 2013. Restrictions of basic constitutional rights for ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and women have been proposed by Republicans countless times in the late 2000’s.
In the end, the reason I am writing this is for one simple reason: liberalism works, conservatism does not. Deregulation of the financial industry and lack of government accountability, as found by the US Financial Inquiry Commission, were the main causes of the unavoidable crisis. This deregulation was a result of George W. Bush’s conservative financial planning and the trend of laissez-faire policies starting with Reagan continuing through the 2000’s. Traditionally, the economy and businesses have fared better under liberal presidents, with average increase in GDP per capita from 1929-2008 going up 3.48% with liberal Democratic presidents and only going up 0.50% with conservative Republicans. Liberalism brought us social progress, helping bring about equality and protection to millions of Americans. We must continue to defend this notion.