The publication schedule of Dissent doesn’t fit neatly with the political schedule of American democracy — so we were not able to
“cover” the electoral disaster of November ’94. But the role of a quarterly is, in any case, to reflect on the meaning of such events, and
this issue features a series of reflections on America’s Right Turn. We can’t say that we foresaw the full dimensions of the turn, though
we have been worrying about the weakening position of the liberal left for some time. The ideological fervor of the contemporary right is
a bit surprising; the strength of the economic interests that the ideology masks is not surprising at all. A fierce populist rhetoric
co-exists easily with an extraordinary deference to the wealthy and powerful few. But why is the co-existence so easy? The left’s failure is
intellectual as well as political.
The right turn is not the result of a mass conversion. It’s not the case that large numbers of people changed their political minds last November. Instead, the electorate as a bloc moved rightward, shedding voters on the left (voting rates were down among blacks, organized workers, women, and Jews) and picking up new voters on the right. The actual electorate was something above a third of the potential electorate. The withdrawal of left voters was matched, roughly, by the arrival of right voters—and these two together made the turn. So the populism that Sean Wilentz analyzes and David Bromwich denounces
is a minority populism. We don’t know the reach of its fears and resentments; we don’t know what American politics would look like if
74 percent instead of 37 percent of eligible voters actually voted.
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