Friday, July 25, 2014

HEINTZ: Why don’t liberals shape economic agenda?

By ANDY HEINTZ, For What It's Worth | 8/2/2013

For the longest time, I’ve lived with the belief that the United States is a center-right country.

I assumed that my country was too enthralled with rugged individualism to ever fully embrace a progressive agenda. Lately, however, I’ve started to question those assumptions.

For the longest time, I’ve lived with the belief that the United States is a center-right country.

I assumed that my country was too enthralled with rugged individualism to ever fully embrace a progressive agenda. Lately, however, I’ve started to question those assumptions.

While Americans certainly have an affinity for conservative rhetoric about limited government and low taxes — as opposed to the progressive taxation and increased economic equality championed by liberals — this alone doesn’t prove that most Americans are naturally inclined to support conservative policies. One of the great paradoxes in U.S. politics lies in how citizens embrace conservative beliefs in theory, but not in practice. For example, American’s generally like the idea of low taxes, but poll after poll reveals that citizens favor raising taxes on the wealthy and cutting military spending as the best ways to balance the budget. And, in sharp contrast to the right wing media — and many self-styled centrists in the mainstream media — there is bipartisan opposition to cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Given these surprising revelations, one would think liberals could marshal support from a diverse set of groups for implementing a progressive economic agenda that strengths the safety net, provides all citizens with health care, and creates jobs by putting people to work fixing our country’s broken infrastructure.

But, alas, liberals have failed to capitalize on American’s appetite for more economic equality. The fact that balancing the budget has taken precedence over creating jobs in the halls of Congress is proof that conservatives still control the political discourse in this country when it comes to economic issues. The key question here is this: Why haven’t progressives been able to win over the hearts and minds of more Americans?

This question can’t be reduced to a simple answer and no “duex ex machina” exists to solve this thorny riddle. Much of progressive’s failure to win broad support from the American people can be chalked up to the success of conservative propaganda. Thanks to a sophisticated campaign to demonize the left in general, many Americans now think the terms liberal and progressives are code words for socialist and anti-American. Conservatives have successfully used words like “dependency,” “big government,” “welfare,” “bureaucrats” and “nanny state” to portray progressives and liberals in an unflattering light. Progressives still are trying to escape from the dark shadow cast by these politically disastrous stereotypes.

Liberals and progressives, however, also have another problem that exceeds conservative propaganda in importance. While Americans are troubled by rising inequality, they are cynical about the government’s ability to help solve this problem. If they allowed inequality to get this bad in the first place, why should they be trusted to fix the problem?

This is a legitimate question. While at first glance, voting for someone who supports an austere agenda that is certain to further enrich the top one percent while weakening the middle class seems irrational — especially if that person is a member of the middle or working class — it appears less so when the government’s role in redistributing wealth upward over the past couple of decades is taken into account.

While liberals have been effective at highlighting the corruption and lack of accountability in our elite institutions — whether they be run by the government or special interests — they haven’t been able to reconstitute them. Nevertheless, reforming our countries broken and-or discredited institutions (especially the financial sector and our ubiquitous mass surveillance system) should remain a top priority for progressives. Once our institutions are adequately reformed, it will be easier to convince Americans that government can play a constructive role in creating jobs and strengthening our struggling middle class.

Andy Heintz is a political commentator. He previously was a Herald staff writer, now a sports reporter at the Ottumwa Courier, Ottumwa, Iowa. Read his blog at http://www.orble.com/just-one-mans-vision/ and follow @heintz23 on Twitter.

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