- Republicans have created a narrative that stresses personal and institutional responsibility. There's no evidence that they practice this themselves, but they've painted Democrats as profligate spenders with far left political and social values that are out of touch with the mainstream.
- They've convinced people that so-called "big government" is a threat to the American way of life, diverting the dialogue from the greater threat of their corporate masters in Big Business. It doesn't help that too many Democrats are beholden to Wall Street money.
- They've sold the fiction that taxes can be eternally cut at no cost to the services people value.
- They've promoted the idea that they are tough on Communists and terrorists while liberals welcome both ashore.
- They appeal to racial fears and anxieties.
- They are now working hard on the story that Democrats and liberals are actively and knowingly attempting to subvert the country.
I followed with interest the comments on another blog in which most of those commenting described themselves poltically as middle-of-the-roaders who examined "both sides" before taking a stand or voting for a candidate. Some, not all by any means, adopted a faint tone of superiority. Fine, but consider that there wouldn't be two sides to consider if a significant number of people didn't adopt a conservative or liberal worldview, or that mainstream liberalism and conservatism are themselves tempered by their most progressive and reactionary forms. (Some might say doctrinaire forms.) There can't be a moderate or middle-of-the-road position without a left and right to weigh it against.
The bigger question has to do with the definitions of left and right versus the general perception of what those terms signify. Conservatives have succeeded in moving the terms of the debate so far to the right that the middle has moved, too. They can now accuse a moderate liberal like Barack Obama of being a leftist or a socialist without being called on it. It doesn't matter that any true leftist or socialist would scoff at the notion that Obama is one of them: the terrain of mainstream, establishment discourse -- the debate covered by the MSM -- is such that to many people Obama is a dangerous leftist. If you ask how it was that 70,000,000 Americans voted for a subversive, they'll start talking about a weak and liberal Republican candidate and a cult of personality that is only now being exposed. (This from the same group that idolizes Sarah Palin.)
Moreover, there is a such thing as an equality or inequality of ideas. For example, Sarah Palin has stated that schools should teach "both sides" of the evolution "debate" and let students make up their own minds. It sounds reasonable on the surface. But Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution by natural selection is bolstered by 160 years of scientific research that have validated and extended his original conclusions. Intelligent Design, by contrast, is less than ten years old and is supported by no research at all. Believe what you will, but one side requires a tremendous reliance on intuition and blind faith while the other offers over a century and a half of hard evidence.
Alternatively, you can debate faith v. reason, but setting them up as opposing sides assumes that they are mutually exclusive. Some proponents of either perspective will argue just that, but not all. When it comes to evolution, the Catholic Church, to name one, has long held that Darwin's theory is not inconsistent with Catholic doctrine. Sometimes there are more than two sides even when there are two sides.
Anyone who reads Citizen K. regularly knows that I drive down the left side of the road. I look at what conservatism has become -- an angry, divisive whirlwind devoid of reason -- and know that I don't want this country to be defined that way. I wouldn't have described conservatism in these terms fifteen years ago, but that's what it has become. I look at what conservatives did when they were in power for six years; they not only bent every principle they held, they ran the country into the ground in the bargain.
I also know that in the long struggle for economic and political equality for all, progressives have always been on the right side and conservatives have always been in opposition. In the end, I believe that the measure of a country is how thoroughly it expands economic and political opportunity for all and by how well it does by its most vulnerable people: The poor, the disenfranchised, minorities, gays, and women. We've come a long way; we have a long way to go. Rush Limbaugh would says that I hate America. To the contrary, I simply want us to live up to our great promise of liberty and justice for all, to be the best we can be.