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  • Norman Young

How Our Political Landscape Has Changed

“Even if removing 98 percent of a given impurity costs twice as much as eliminating 97 percent, and removing 99 percent costs ten times as much, the political appeal of categorical phrases like ‘clean water’ may be just as potent when the water is already 99 percent pure as when it was dangerously polluted.” - Thomas Sowell

In the 1960s, a “free love” movement swept the nation, taking aim at Judeo-Christian sexual morality which it viewed as repressive and tyrannical. That same decade, the Civil Rights movement achieved major strides toward equality for black Americans—not just legal equality, but equality in the social sphere, as well. Over the next few decades, these political movements continued to be successful, fundamentally transforming the culture of the United States. Young Americans are so far removed from the sexual morality which prevailed during the 1950s that few can even picture that era without caricaturing it—men seeing a sexless world like Pleasantville; women imagining the blind submission of The Stepford Wives. Likewise, few can conceptualize what it might be like to live in a culture where contempt for overt racism is not a universal given.

In the early 1980s, a different political movement took off: the Reagan revolution. During the height of Cold War tensions, President Reagan convinced Americans that an intrusive federal government smacked of Soviet tyranny, while a limited government represented Western freedom. He slashed top marginal tax rates, deregulated industry, and implemented Free Trade policy. At the same time, Reagan embraced a new geopolitical ideology which defined America as a prime mover in advancing the cause of freedom worldwide. This neoconservative foreign policy was magnificently successful in opposing communism and bringing about the end of the Cold War by collapsing the Soviet Union.

America’s two major political parties built their infrastructure and developed their strategies around the success of these successful political movements. Democrats chose to be on the forefront of social policy and benefited politically from the cultural success of social liberalism. Republicans took the lead on the economy and foreign policy and benefited politically from Reagan’s powerful economic boom and Americans’ fears of Russia. Where one party succeeded, the other party conceded. As Democrats won victories on social issues, the Republican Party developed a zero-tolerance policy on overt racism and even reluctantly adopted the Left’s