A Center-Right Nation Forever

James Joyner, surveying some data about the demographic shifts threatening conservative politics, concludes “We’ll always have a strong “conservative” movement. It’s just that Ronald Reagan and Alex P. Keaton wouldn’t quite recognize it.”

I would go stronger than that, actually, and posit that American politics in the future will mostly be dominated by a center-right political coalition just as it always has. This is just how things work. A political coalition grounded in the social mores of the ethno-sectarian majority and the ideas of the business class has overwhelming intrinsic advantages against contrary movements grounded in the complaints of minority groups and the economic claims of the lower orders. It’s a little bit hard to even know what a permanent progressive governing majority would mean, and harder to know how you would sustain it. When you think about how different countries wind up where they are, it’s never because the political left secures some kind of decisive victory over the political right. Instead, things the left puts in place during moments of victory manage to secure mainstream acceptance and survive periods of center-right electoral victory. That’s the National Health Service under Thatcher, Social Security under Eisenhower, the Civil Rights Act under Nixon, or Medicare under Reagan. The dominant position of the Democratic Party for much of the 20th Century was achieved through the strange method of the Democratic Party containing a lot of very very very very conservative politicians. The actual periods of major progressive legislation were brief — but they had lasting impact.

If we succeed in achieving major progressive reforms in 2009 and 2010, we’re going to create a situation in which the existence of a workable national health care system deprives the Democrats of a winning electoral issue. A certain number of voters who have conservative views on some other topics but who liked progressive ideas on health care will vote for more Republicans. If progressives succeed in increasing economic mobility and decreasing inequality, that will probably increase the number of middle- and upper-class Hispanics who decide they want tax cuts. The goal, however, is to achieve the goal of a more just society, not to win a bunch of elections.