Friday, June 22, 2007

Liberalism Ascendent

In a fascinating analysis of polling data for The Nation, Rick Perlstein has heartening words for unabashed liberals:
You suspected it all along. Now it just might be true: Most Americans think like you.
He begins be referencing The Pew Research Center's new study, Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2007. The numbers astonish. As Pew opens their summary:
Increased public support for the social safety net, signs of growing public concern about income inequality, and a diminished appetite for assertive national security policies have improved the political landscape for the Democrats as the 2008 presidential campaign gets underway.

At the same time, many of the key trends that nurtured the Republican resurgence in the mid-1990s have moderated, according to Pew's longitudinal measures of the public's basic political, social and economic values. The proportion of Americans who support traditional social values has edged downward since 1994, while the proportion of Americans expressing strong personal religious commitment also has declined modestly.
Pews numbers show that:

In 2002, Party affiliation was about even, with 43% identifying or leaning towards both the Democrats and Republicans. Now, the Democrats lead 50-35%.

In 1994, when the Republicans took Congress, only 41% agreed that "the government should help more needy people, even if it adds to the nation's debt." Today, that number is 54%.

Five years ago, an impressive 65% said "today it's really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer," but that number has actually risen to 73%.

In 2002, 62% agreed that "The best way to ensure peace is through military strength." Today, that number has dropped to 49%.

In 1987, only 8% said they were unaffiliated with any religion, but that number has now grown to 12%. Furthermore:
The poll finds greater public acceptance of homosexuality and less desire for women to play traditional roles in society. Both represent a continuation of trends that have been apparent over the past 20 years, and have occurred mostly among older people.
In 1995, 58% favored Affirmative Action. With gains across the political spectrum, that number now stands at 70%.

And while Perlstein emphasizes that the Pew numbers show Independents increasingly largely agreeing with Democrats on the issues, in the overall trends:
It's not just Pew. In the authoritative National Election Studies (NES) survey, more than twice as many Americans want "government to provide many more services even if it means an increase in spending" as want fewer services "in order to reduce spending." According to Gallup, a majority say they generally side with labor in disputes and only 34 percent with companies; 53 percent think unions help the economy and only 36 percent think they hurt. A 2005 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 53 percent of Americans thought the Bush tax cuts were "not worth it because they have increased the deficit and caused cuts in government programs." CNN/Opinion Research Corp. found that only 25 percent want to see Roe v. Wade overturned; NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard found the public rejecting government-funded abstinence-only sex education in favor of "more comprehensive sex education programs that include information on how to obtain and use condoms and other contraceptives" by 67 percent to 30 percent. Public Agenda/Foreign Affairs discovered that 67 percent of Americans favor "diplomatic and economic efforts over military efforts in fighting terrorism."

Want hot-button issues? The public is in love with rehabilitation over incarceration for youth offenders. Zogby/National council on Crime and Delinquency found that 89 percent think it reduces crime and 80 percent that it saves money over the long run. "Amnesty"? Sixty-two percent told CBS/New York Times surveyors that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to "keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status." And the gap between the clich├ęs about what Americans believe about gun control and what they actually believe is startling: NBC News/Wall Street Journal found 58 percent favoring "tougher gun control laws," and Annenberg found that only 10 percent want laws controlling firearms to be less strict, a finding reproduced by the NES survey in 2004 and Gallup in 2006.
He then refers to the report The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America is a Myth, by the Campaign For America's Future and Media Matters. Highlights of this report include these numbers:

69% agree that "t is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have access to health coverage," with 76% percent deeming it more important than Bush's tax cuts, and 60% willing to have their own taxes raised towards that end.

52% believe government investment in alternative energy sources is the best way to break our addiction to foreign oil, with 68% agreeing conservation is a better solution than production, and 64% willing to pay higher taxes for renewable energy research.

77% believe the minimum wage should be increased.

66% believe the wealthy pay too little taxes.

53% deem Bush's tax cuts a failure because of the increased deficit and cuts in government programs.

69% believe the government "should care for those who can't care for themselves."

62% believe undocumented workers should have the opportunity to "keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status."

Perlstein believes Democrats fail by not identifying themselves more strongly as Democrats. Given the Party affiliation numbers, it's impossible to disagree. And he points to another telling conclusion of the CFAF/MM report:
(W)hen the GOP took over Congress in 1994, the New York Times front page claimed, "The country has unmistakably moved to the right." It hadn't; for an excellent study showing this wasn't so, see Ronald Rapoport and Walter Stone's Three's a Crowd, which shows how Newt Gingrich's Contract With America was tailored as an appeal to Perot voters, then retroactively spun as a mandate for conservatism. Ten years later, when Bush beat Kerry by three points, Katie Couric asked on Today, "Does this election indicate that this country has become much more socially conservative?" It was a rhetorical question, for the establishment had set the conclusion in stone long before. Three weeks before the 2006 election Candy Crowley of CNN said Democrats were "on the losing side of the values debate, the defense debate and, oh yes, the guns debate." After election day, Bob Schieffer of CBS said, "The Democrats' victory was built on the back of more centrist candidates seizing Republican-leaning districts." (Tell that to my favorite Democratic House pickup, Carol Shea-Porter, a former social worker who won a New Hampshire seat after getting kicked out of a 2005 presidential appearance for wearing a T-shirt reading Turn Your Back on Bush.) John Harris of the Washington Post, now of The Politico, said, "This is basically not a liberal country." Concludes the Media Matters/Campaign for America's Future report, "Democratic victories are understood as a product of the Democrats moving to the right, while Republican victories are the product of a conservative electorate."
There is much more to his article, including about media complicity in obfuscating the facts about the public's political beliefs; but his own conclusion is clear: Democrats need to stop compromising, they need to stop avoiding Party identification, and they need to stop listening to the corporate media's conventional wisdom. Democrats have been right all along- not Third Way, DLC Democrats, but traditional populist Democrats.

I will point to another issue. A May poll by the conservative InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion found that 39% favor impeaching Bush and Cheney. This was a poll taken in a vacuum, since no one in the corporate media, and no Democratic leaders are even discussing the possibility. It's telling that this poll was the only one recently taken on impeachment. The corporate media is, apparently, afraid to touch the subject. Why are the Democrats? This was a poll taken absent any public hearings laying out the extensive legitimate grounds for impeachment. It's also a poll showing stronger support for impeachment than for the Democratic Congress. What does that tell you?

It's time for elected Democrats to stop being afraid. Our core values are the nation's. The more elected Democrats stand up for our core values, the more elected Democrats there will be. Liberalism is ascendent. It's time to acknowledge it, act on it, and revel in it.

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