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There are few examples that better reflect the privilege inherited by our generation more than the diminished role of ideology in our political culture. Many have accused the two-party system of merging to form one dinosaur coalition of “Republicrats” that do not represent opposing ideals and which too often lacks substantive differences.
Our parents and grandparents belonged to generations that defined the democratic ideal by perpetuating political discourse at all levels of government, engaging all parts of the political spectrum in philosophical debates over the fundamental role of the government on many fronts.
Our grandparents saw the United States step into the Second World War and emerge as a hemispheric superpower. Likewise, our parents weathered the 1960s civil rights dilemma that nearly crippled the domestic landscape before becoming one of the most historically important periods in American history. Identity as a liberal or conservative represented vastly contrasting opinions, lifestyles and socioeconomic status.
We are an apathetic generation with no war to fight, few liberties to advocate defending and a collective bank account that could probably bail the U.S. out of debt. We are a generation afforded the intellectual luxury of not needing to define anything in political terms, including the concepts of liberalism and conservatism.
In the literal sense of the term, conservatism is meant to describe a viewpoint that maintains the status quo, favoring stability over change. Now, as the United States, lead by a hawkish wartime president, pushes towards war, things seem less stable and certain than ever – change is constant.
Although these circumstances alone do not defy conservatives, the inability of those on the right to make moral advances on the issues like abortion and stem cell research highlights the flailing organization of the archconservatives, which at one point represented a formidable force in American politics.
Because of the aforementioned evolution of the two-party system in the United States, the emergence of a vast coalition of moderates has essentially dominated the political landscape since at least the late 1980s.
Americans are essentially liberal in that they are on the whole not conservative, although their intention to identify with the left is not necessarily clear. Although the Clinton presidency is marred with images of party-line votes and Congressional infighting, a more keen observation would attest to the alienation of the most liberal Democrats during that administration.
Concessions on many public policy fronts had to be made once the Republicans attained control over the House in 1994. Under Newt Gingrich, the conservative movement gained some temporary momentum and then fizzled, rattling the nerves of an image-conscious president.
What had started as a very liberal administration was re-focused after the embarrassing defeat suffered by Clinton when his plan to socialize Medicare failed to garner significant support. Public service programs floundered, budgets were disputed and the government shut down.
Clinton’s legacy is one of compromise and inane political prowess, but he demonstrated that the modern presidency does not have the ability to govern from either the far right or the far left, representing a major shift in the American political culture.
Through all of his moral quandaries, personal crises and perceived corruption, Clinton was able to maintain and establish an impenetrable popularity with the public, because he eventually delivered to the people what they wanted all along: a centrist.
Based solely on intuition and observations, it seems apparent that much of the disaffiliation with staunch political ideologies may stem from a lack of political interest in general on behalf of the American public.
We should be concerned that the American political ideal has become one of homogeneity. While there are still issues that may philosophically divide us, it seems that at least for now, the biggest ideological battle is being fought somewhere in the middle.