Michael Lind: The Final Defeat of Backlash Politics

Roundup: Historians' Take

Michael Lind is the author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States and co-founder of the New America Foundation.

Despite its reinforcement of the status quo and the lack of debate about large issues during the campaign, the election of 2012 will go down in history as the end of the backlash against mid-20th century liberalism.  A new, increasingly liberal electorate has ratified the results of the New Deal and the Civil Rights Revolution.  Republican conservatives will still be able to win victories, but their hopes of overturning the outcomes of the 1930s and the 1960s have been doomed by cultural and demographic change.

From the 1970s to the present, American politics has been driven by the backlash against the two liberal revolutions of the mid-20th century — the New Deal economic revolution and the Civil Rights Revolution and the attendant wave of cultural liberalization.  In 1968, Alabama Gov. George Wallace led many working-class whites upset with racial integration and the ’60s cultural revolution out of the Democratic Party.  From the 1970s until recently, these working-class white “Reagan Democrats” — socially conservative, pro-military and suspicious of government in the abstract, while fond of government benefits — were the swing voters in national elections for whom Reagan Republicans and Clintonian New Democrats competed....

...There will still be a right and a left in the United States of 2050.  But the right will be calling for a VAT on marijuana of 15 percent instead of 18 percent.  And the conservatives of tomorrow will insist, against progressive champions of polyamory, that the law should recognize only marriage between two individuals, not among three or more.

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