It’s 1964. A stranger approaches and tells you two political movements will arise in the near future, the New Left and the New Right. One of these movements will dominate American electoral politics for a good quarter century. It will capture a political party, whose activists and politicians will adopt its language and thinking. Some political scientists will define the entire period in terms of the ascendancy of this group; historians will write books naming this age after the movement’s most successful leader. Politicians, scholars, and activists of the Right and Left will go so far as to call it a “Revolution.”
Imagine then that you could look at the America (such as it is) of November 5, 2008, at the end of this era.
The election of Barack Obama, “the most liberal man in the Senate,” is a crowning moment for a federal welfare state that’s grown steadily for over 50 years, regardless of which party was in office. Each individual state is merely an administrative unit for a centralized bureaucracy. All important decisions are made by the Supreme Court. On social issues, conservatives have been in abject retreat, even as leftists bemoan the rise of “Christian fascism.” The ban on school prayer, enacted in 1962 with Engel vs. Vitale, has about as much chance of being overturned as the 1964 Civil Right Act. Gay marriage is a reality in several states. Mass immigration from the Third World is not just permitted but hailed as a moral imperative and encouraged by leaders of both political parties. The children of those immigrants receive preferences in education and job placement over Americans whose roots go back to the Founders.
Iconic American corporations such as McDonald’s, General Motors, and Coca-Cola fund far Left groups with hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants each year—even as some struggle to make profits. Universities are filled with “ethnic studies” and “women’s studies” majors, who are skilled in organizing protests against Western Civilization but can’t read the books that define it. News articles habitually reference public schools removing the names of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, to be replaced by some community organizer or another who was successful at stealing taxpayer money.
All of the above—and much more, of course—have occurred during and after the “Reagan Revolution” and the mighty deeds of its heroes that are regularly recounted in story and song at the foundations, think-tanks, and non-profits that occupy Northern Virginia. The cadres of Young Americans for Freedom may have gotten elected to office, but we live in the world of Students for a Democratic Society. During the Age of Reagan and conservative hegemony, the New Left decisively won the culture wars, by largely abolishing, often through state fiat, the previously existing culture.
The American Right won past electoral victories by appealing to Middle America, posing as its defenders against the left-wing radicals who spat on the society that gave them so much privilege. Beyond lip service though, the conservative movement didn’t actually do anything to conserve that society, never mind roll back the gains of the Left.