There are two conservatives for every liberal in America. That’s the message of a recent David Brooks column as well as a Gallup survey. I think the imbalance is much starker. I would guess there are four conservatives for every liberal. Maybe even more.
Here’s a test I invite you to take. Watch C-Span’s morning call-in show and listen to what people who phone in on the “Democrat” or “liberal” line have to say. When is the last time you heard a caller say, “We should all pay higher taxes so that the government can provide us with universal day care”? Or how about, “We should all pay higher taxes so the government can provide us with universal long term care”? I bet you can’t remember ever hearing that.
Here is what I suspect you will hear: Teachers complaining that teachers aren’t paid enough. Union members complaining about competition from workers overseas. Senior citizens whining about the meagerness of Social Security or Medicare benefits. Minority callers advocating more affirmative action. What is the common denominator of these comments? Self-interest.
Yes, I know. Special interests are in both parties. Why wouldn’t they be? Yet as I wrote in my analysis of “progressivism,” the left in America has elevated special interest privilege to an art form.
Here’s the point: people wanting more, more, more are just people pursuing their own self interest in politics. They are not in principle different from any other special interest group. Importantly, they have nothing in common with what we normally have in mind by the term “liberalism.”
There are very few people around who want in principle to give government more power over their money, their property or their lives. And Brooks is probably right about the reason why: Most people don’t trust government. In fact, only 10 percent trust the government to do the right thing most of the time, according to opinion polls.
Here is a second test. Keep watching C-Span. After the outside callers are gone, most days you get to watch Congress in action. Have you ever watched a series of speeches on the House floor? Have you ever watched a real Congressional debate? Try it some time. Then ask yourself this question: Do you trust the people you are watching on TV to manage your retirement pension? Or do you have more confidence in your employer or Fidelity or even Merrill Lynch? Do you trust the people on the House floor to manage your health care? Or do you have more confidence in your employer or even UnitedHealthcare or Aetna?
Congress in action most days reminds us of school children insulting and taunting each other. It’s like a group of adolescents desperately in need of adult supervision.
It takes a very special kind of person to watch lunacy in action and then opt to give the lunatics more control over your life. There are such special people, of course. They are disproportionately congregated in Hollywood, on the campuses of the nation’s colleges and universities and in the elite news media.
What are the common characteristics all too many of them share? Arrested development (they never bothered to grow up), aversion to the rest of humanity (they really are elitists), a lack of common sense (they’ve never really managed anything) and a failure to master the syllogism (they approach the world emotionally, not logically).
Here is something you need to understand: liberalism is not an ideology. It’s a sociology. It’s not a way of thinking. It’s a way of responding to the world emotionally.
What was the core issue during the dispute over the constitutionality of ObamaCare’s requirement that everyone buy health insurance? It was whether there are any limits to government power. If the government can force you to buy health insurance, can it also require you to eat broccoli every day, one federal judge asked. Surprisingly, liberals in general refused to draw a line on the hypothetical broccoli mandate. They were unwilling to say that it’s unconstitutional for the government to tell you what you must eat for lunch.
Then George Stephanopoulos during the Republican presidential debate the other night surprised Governor Romney with a truly off-the-wall question: Do you think state governments should be able to outlaw contraceptives? Romney was nonplussed, as were the other candidates. They can be forgiven for not knowing that all true liberals believe it is unconstitutional for government to tell you what contraceptives you can and can’t use.
Think about that. It’s permissible for government to tell you that you must eat broccoli, but not permissible for government to tell you that you can’t have a contraceptive. Anyone who thinks this way isn’t thinking at all. He’s emoting.
That’s why you don’t find very many real liberals in places like Dallas, Cincinnati or Indianapolis. If liberal candidates get a lot of votes in cities like these, it is only because they are appealing to self-interest, not because they are pushing liberal sociology.
Then there are the trust fund babies. They come from all over, but they tend to congregate in places like New York, San Francisco and Aspen where they meet like-minded folks with a common affliction: they feel guilty. On the plus side, they are the reason why high-priced Manhattan restaurants can keep their doors open. On the down side, they are the main reason Barack Obama is going to have close to a billion dollars to spend going around the country explaining why the distribution of wealth is so unfair.
Put all these people together and you have an amazing phenomenon: roughly 10 percent of the population — a large proportion of which are disaffected, unhappy misfits — imposing their world view on the other 90 percent. They don’t win every election of course. But they are almost always represented by candidates who are in contention.
If sociologists really want to do something useful, they can try to explain all this.
John C. Goodman, PhD, is president and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis. He is also the Kellye Wright Fellow in health care. His Health Policy Blog is considered among the top conservative health care blogs where health care problems are discussed by top health policy experts from all sides of the political spectrum.