STUDY: U.S. policy has moved increasingly left over the last 70 years

Matt Grossman is a political scientist at Michigan State University. Last week he published an interesting op-ed in The Washington Post enttitled “U.S. policy has gone liberals’ way for 70 years.”

It shreds the establishment Republicans’ claims that moderate, centrist positions are a path to electoral victory. The reason?

Conservatives in Congress are the prime suspects in Washington’s dysfunction. Veteran congressional watchdogs Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann called the previous session the “worst Congress ever,” and they did not hold back in assigning blame: “The Republicans are the problem,” they said. After a fruitless government shutdown last fall, even House Speaker John Boehner lashed out at conservative groups and passed bills over the opposition of his caucus.

In response, conservatives make two simple claims: Most policies under debate are liberal, and Republican leaders sacrifice conservative principles when they compromise. History shows they are right on both counts.

The reason: the progressive left has framed the debate and the playing field for decades leaving the GOP to play non-stop defense.

…Of the 509 most significant domestic policies passed by Congress, only one in five were conservative, in that they contracted the scope of government funding, regulation or responsibility. More than 60 percent were liberal: They clearly expanded government. The others offered a mix of liberal or conservative components or took no clear ideological direction. When significant policy change occurs in the executive branch, it is even less likely to be conservative; only 10 percent of the executive orders and agency rules that policy historians cited were conservative.

Even labeling as conservative policy government expansions in pursuit of conservative goals, such as traditional values or tougher sentencing,
makes little difference in this conclusion; few significant policy changes fall into this category, though we hear about them often in campaigns…

In other words, when Congress acts it is almost invariably expanding government, not constraining it.

There is a good reason why conservatives are often charged with obstruction. When government is more active, it is usually moving policy to the left. When Congress has doubled its normal productivity, many more liberal laws pass but not necessarily more conservative laws. There was only one session of Congress, the two years after the Republican takeover in 1994, that was both active and conservative, but it did not last. Under President Ronald Reagan, the executive branch made more conservative policy changes only during the first two years of his presidency. Productive policymaking means more domestic spending, more business regulation and wider government responsibility.

The view that normal legislating and bipartisan compromises lead to expanded government is no tea party illusion; it is an accurate reading of the past 70 years.

…the federal government has continually expanded its role in education, civil rights, the environment and health care — and Republican presidents have played large roles in this. Nixon entrenched the Great Society and oversaw the environmental revolution. Reagan was less active domestically but signed more government expansions than contractions. President George H.W. Bush brought us landmarks such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, and his son brought us No Child Left Behind and a new Medicare entitlement.

This history does not bother some Republicans, who see opportunities to fashion new ideas and bargain in pursuit of conservative objectives. But even past policymaking designed to promote markets, safeguard morality and protect the homeland usually expanded government. If contraction is the goal, a positive policy agenda is unlikely to succeed…. The arc of the policy universe is long, but it bends toward liberalism. Conservatives can slow the growth of government but an enduring shift in policy direction would be unprecedented. History shows that a do-nothing Congress is a conservative’s best-case scenario.

All of this tells me that the only way to constrain government is to convene an Article V Convention of the States and to pass amendments similar to those described in The Liberty Amendments.

The federal government seems incapable of controlling itself, so it is incumbent upon the states to do so.

Hat tip: Mark Levin

Doug Ross @ Journal