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Smart v. Stupid

New polls rock foundations of conservatism

Our vice presidential debate is in the history books. All of the judges are holding up score cards and reviews are decidedly mixed. I saw a clear win for Biden. VP debates hardly ever matter, though, and that’s probably true here.

But two recent polls reveal how the positions staked out by each VP candidate might play in the minds of voters. In the end, Biden’s win looks less important than the way his positions will be received by voters. And in that, new polls by Pew and Gallup – taken together – look good for Democrats.

Simply put, our society is inclined to be less coercively conservative and no longer dominantly Christian. We’re becoming more tolerant even if we’re not quite ready to call that “more liberal.” That doesn’t bode well for a candidate who wants to use government to enforce social doctrine or limit choices, both mainstays of conservative orthodoxy

A recent Pew poll upends the idea that we’re a “Christian nation.” For the first time in Pew polling, those describing themselves as Protestant dropped below half. Today, approaching half of Americans are neither Protestant nor Catholic. In just five years, those who describe themselves as non-religiously affiliated grew from 15 percent to 20 percent – one in five Americans. But here are the big takeaways: Of all Americans, more than half believe that religions are too concerned with amassing wealth and promoting rules. Almost half say religions are too concerned with politics.

Together, these beliefs reveal an increasing willingness to apply a crap-detector test to pulpit politics. Gallup polling recently found that that only 44 percent of Americans have confidence in organized religions, a decline of almost 25 points from its high in 1975. In more assumption shattering news researchers also reported,

“For the first time, Gallup finds a majority of Americans, 52 percent, saying the government should not favor any set of values in society, while 44 percent believe it should promote traditional values. From 1993 through 2004, the majority of Americans consistently favored the government's promoting of traditional values, but views have since been more mixed.”

How does all this polling data relate to the vice presidential debate? It appears we are in the midst of an historic decline of public support for coercive conservatism. If that is true, it bodes well for abortion and family planning choice, marriage choice, and choice in general. It bodes poorly for choice-limiting law making, neoconservative adventurism in the Middle East (and its Crusader roots), for ending Social Security and for vouchering Medicare.

Why these last two? Because arguments for getting rid of Social Security and Medicare are rooted in conservative dogma that humans are lazy and selfish. They rely on the quasi-religious orthodoxy that people need to be scared into being good. The real purpose, of course, is simply to increase the size of the labor pool by making it harder to retire. This drives down wages for everyone to the benefit of their employers. (At the heart of most Republican social initiatives is a desire to make your labor worth less.)

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Fire and brimstone no longer have a stranglehold on the American psyche. We Americans no longer want government to enforce personal behaviors or religious tenets. Younger Americans are even more likely to put personal fulfillment and personal freedom ahead of government enforced choice limits. And this trend is accelerating. That’s not good news for conservatives, but it is probably good news for America.

Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”

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Giovanni Stradano

Dante's Inferno,Canto Eight

Simply put, our society is inclined to be less coercively conservative


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