It would be the highest irony if the evidence of conservative evolution came on the occasion of a bruising midterm election, but two stories by the media today appears to indicate that conservatives have successfully changed the paradigm of politics over the last generation. A CNN poll indicates that a majority of Americans now believes that government tries to do too much, while the New York Times reports that Democrats have begun producing less liberal candidates in order to win seats in Congress. Both together show that the Reagan Revolution has continued to influence politics well past the end of his administration.
The CNN poll shows that the current polarization does not apply to the question of government’s size:
A quarter century after the Reagan revolution and a dozen years after Republicans vaulted into control of Congress, a new CNN poll finds most Americans still agree with the bedrock conservative premise that, as the Gipper put it, “government is not the answer to our problems — government is the problem.” …
Queried about their views on the role of government, 54 percent of the 1,013 adults polled said they thought it was trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Only 37 percent said they thought the government should do more to solve the country’s problems.
Politics follow shifts in public opinion, and the Democratic Party has tried to steal a march on Reagan’s party in the midterm elections:
In their push to win back control of the House, Democrats have turned to conservative and moderate candidates who fit the profiles of their districts more closely than the profile of the national party.
One such candidate, Heath Shuler, was courted by Republicans to run for office in 2001. Mr. Shuler, 34, is a retired National Football League quarterback who is running in the 11th Congressional District in North Carolina. He is an evangelical Christian and holds fast to many conservative social views, like opposition to abortion rights.
“My guess is that if Democrats are in the majority, it’s going to be because of these New Democrat, Blue Dog candidates out there winning in these competitive swing districts,” Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin, co-chairman of a caucus of centrist House Democrats, said in an interview.
But if candidates like Mr. Shuler do help the Democrats gain majority control of Congress, it could come at a political price, which may include tensions in the party between its new centrists and its more liberal political base.
It shows the success of the Reagan message, and once again underscores the profound impact he had on American politics. His Western conservatism has resonated because it based itself on the truths that informed the founders of the nation: that government which governs least governs best. America does best when it allows individuals to live their lives free of government interference, when it respects private property, and when it keeps most political questions as close to local governments as possible. It’s the marvel of the Constitution that it reveals all of these truths, and Reagan (and Barry Goldwater before him) understood how to communicate that exceptionality.
If the Republicans find themselves in trouble at the midterms, it may come in reaction to the extent that they have failed to grasp the Reagan message. The smaller-government message will still win elections, but the question may be for whom it wins those contests when the GOP fails to tend to its Reagan legacy. (via Heritage Foundation Policy Blog)