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March 14, 2014 10:49 AM Yeah, Conservatives Have Better Talismans. So?

By Seth Masket

Jonathan Bernstein asks, “What’s the liberal equivalent of a gun?” He’s picking up on Paul Waldman’s earlier post noting that the gun has become a rallying symbol for conservative activists and that liberals don’t seem to have anything that’s quite so simple and unifying or conveys so much information to their supporters. And yes, that’s basically true. A shopping bag made of 100% recycled material just doesn’t rally liberals the way a rifle rallies conservatives. So somehow, through the complicated web of political history, the party of the first president to be felled by an assassin’s bullet has come to rally under the banner of the gun. Fine.

But Jon asked later, via Twitter, whether any of this matters. Does it help a party or an ideology to have such a unifying talisman? I rather doubt it. Liberals know what they believe in and have a series of proud accomplishments (Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, Civil Rights, etc.) and heroes (FDR, JFK, MLK, etc.) they can trot out when they want to, just like conservatives do. I suppose it’s convenient that conservatives have this powerful image they can display that conveys their message of strength and liberty in about 0.5 seconds to nearly all their supporters, but it’s not like liberals can’t do that with a few extra seconds. Given the fierce level of political competition in the country right now and the near levels of parity between the two parties, I’d really have a hard time believing that one ideology has an advantage over the other.

Besides that, look at the ideological scoreboard. Gun ownership is declining. Same-sex marriage is rapidly gaining in usage and acceptance. Gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military. Abortion remains legal after a 40-year campaign to stop it. The federal government took over health care. Conservatives’ iconography may be awesome, but exactly who seems to be ascendant right now?

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

Seth Masket is an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver.

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