The last throes of radical conservatism



But I think the level of activity that we see today, from a military standpoint, I think will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.

-- then-Vice President Dick Cheney, May 30, 2005

.I have never been a right-winger.

-- Pope Francis, Sept. 19, 2013.

Do you hear that sound? These conservative blues, to paraphrase another famous Francis, are melting away. Of course, it may not look that way at the moment. In just the last 24 hours, the House of Representatives -- the last rebel holdout, if you will -- has voted to drastically slash food stamps and then to defund Obamacare, which would deny health insurance (and thus good health) to millions of Americans. Then they did what most decent, overwhelmingly Christian folks would do after throwing so many folks into hunger and sickness -- they threw themselves a big party.

This, too, shall, pass. I don't know how the great governmental impasse of 2013 will play out, and I can't guarantee that the right-wing radicalism won't score victories from time to time, especially in the reactionary hothouses of Red State capitols where lawmakers have been working overtime on how to deny the vote to minorities and others, to deny benefits to the poor, and deny women the right to choose. But the bottom line is that this is a new millennium...and liberalism is winning.

It's winning in New York City, where after two generations of "law-and-order," pro-Wall Street mayors, mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio has captured the public imagination by promising to tackle growing income inequality head on, and by telling young blacks and Latinos that they have the right to walk peacefully down the street without police harassment.

And it's winning in Rome, where Pope Francis -- while not completely forsaking the Catholic Church's conservative vision on social issues -- has made it clear that that greed and poverty will be the preoccupations of his papacy and that he's not going to be "obsessed" with abortion, gay marriage or contraception.

Indeed, if you've been focusing on the anti-food-stamp jihad in recent days, you might have missed real progress in equal rights for the LGBT community, in roling back the misguided excesses of the never-ending war on drugs, in foreign policy that calls on diplomacy before dropping bombs, in making health care more affordable for more Americans and so on. There's a long way to go -- the abuses of our surveillance state still seem intractable, and changing Wall Street will be much, much harder than changing the nation's politics has been. But the wave is moving in the right direction.

The writer Peter Beinart wrote kind of the ur piece on this topic a couple of weeks ago. He goes beyond the conventional wisdom, which is that Democrats have captured the popular vote on five of the last six presidential elections (going back before my now-both-in-college children were even born). because the electorate is less white, less old (duh), less religious. Beinart doesn't dispute that, but argues that more importantly the new generation doesn't hold the anti-governmental views of the Reagan era, that coming of age in the 21st Century they believe that government can help solve their problems.

America’s youngest adults are called “Millennials” because the 21st century was dawning as they entered their plastic years. Coming of age in the 21st century is of no inherent political significance. But this calendric shift has coincided with a genuine historical disruption. Compared to their Reagan-Clinton generation elders, Millennials are entering adulthood in an America where government provides much less economic security. And their economic experience in this newly deregulated America has been horrendous. This experience has not produced a common generational outlook. No such thing ever exists. But it is producing a distinct intragenerational argument, one that does not respect the ideological boundaries to which Americans have become accustomed. The Millennials are unlikely to play out their political conflicts between the yard lines Reagan and Clinton set out.

By a narrow margin, Beinart notes, U.S. millennials even favor socialism over capitalism. That sounds pretty radical, but after living through the 2008 economic crisis and the era of "too big to fail" banks, can you blame them? Whatever you think about Pope Francis, the man knows how to read the polls.

It's easy to get distracted by the day-to-day, by how the last throes of radical right-wing Republicanism are playing out on our cable TV sets. But step back and look at the bigger picture. More and more people are asking the right questions, like: Why shouldn't gay people have the same right to get married? Why is it that America has an incarceration rate that is unmatched in the Western world? Why are all of the recent economic gains flowing to the 1 Percent?

Answering those questions are what's going to define the world that our children live in -- not the latest food stamp noise in Washington.