Reihan Salam: New Conservatism

photo by Kris Krüg

Challenging Conversations: Reihan Salam

Reihan Salam, a New America Foundation fellow, writes on politics, culture, and technology. At PopTech 2009, Salam argues that America’s growing diversity, divided by massive inequalities, will lead the country to increasing social conservatism. Salam also co-authored Grand New Party: How Conservatives Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream.

Challenging Conversations: Reihan Salam

From the Pop!Tech Blog:

“Like a good conservative I’m going to draw on Hegel,” he quips, “the inspiration for Karl Marx!” His first assertion is that the New Deal invented what we know as America. In the 1950s, you had to put up half the money for a house as a down payment, which would mean getting a second mortgage with a high interest rate, so very few Americans owned their own homes. FDR was worrying, as do many Democrats today, that they were spending a lot of public money; he wanted to jack up economic growth without using government money per se. He came up with the idea of manufacturing a housing boom. “We all know how well that turned out — well, back then, it turned out very well indeed!” There was dramatic improvement in the kind of houses people were living in. The downside was that the economy came to be built on consumer debt.

Reihan Salam: New Conservatism from PopTech on Vimeo.

The New Deal invented modern America, but now we’re in uncharted territory. The New Deal also arguably invented the modern family, “which is where its conservatism becomes clear.” A key component of the New Deal movement was women, social workers, highly educated, who saw a dramatic increase in divorce rates between 1900 and 1920. They also saw birth rates falling and crime rates rising. These women wanted to create family arrangements where women would not be in the workface; they wanted to actively discriminate against women. “It’s an idea that today conservatives and liberals would consider totally psychotic!… but it made sense at the time.” For a while it seemed to work; marriage rates increased, birth rates increased, crime rates plummeted. That led to the 1950s with its social solidarity. But the reason the social solidarity evolved was that there was an unusually low proportion of foreign-born Americans at that time. Americans weren’t being truly represented in our political institutions; women were being subordinated, and you didn’t have the principle of “one man, one vote.”