We are getting radically conflicting answers to one question which, more than others, will decide next year's presidential election. The question: Is the tide of political conservatism, which dominated the nation for the past two years, still running strong or is it beginning to fade so that it will be a negligible force by next fall?
If it remains vigorous, it will almost certainly guarantee the election of a Republican president.
If it peters out, the prospects of a Democratic victory will be very high.
The two divergent judgments about how the political tide will be running at the end of the next nine months are these:
Most of the liberal Democrats are saying that the conservative trend has nearly run its course and that by next fall they will be able to campaign effectively on traditional New Deal issues -- more welfare, more government, higher deficit spending.
Republican conservatives are buoyantly convinced that voters are just as intent upon fiscal conservatism and lower taxes as they were when Proposition 13 burst on the scene.
I don't want to mislead people, including myself, but I have to report that I see little but wishful thinking to justify the liberal optimism. there is considerable evidence to support the conclusion that the tide of political conservatism is destined to run for some years, perhaps through the decade of the '80s, and will substantially affect political decisions on both the state and federal level.
Consider the following:
More than 60 percent of the American people would like to see a constitutional amendment which would mandate a balanced federal budget yearly except in the event of an emergency.
State after state, most of them with Democratic governors and legislatures, have been enacting tax reductions patterned after Proposition 13.
It is not without significance that all three Democratic candidates -- Kennedy, Brown, and Carter -- are stressing economic conservatism. The Senator is seeking to alter his image as a big new Deal spender. Governor Brown continues to press his case for a ballance-the-budget amendment. The President constantly urges fiscal caution.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the tide of conservative politics is that the United States is not leading this trend. It is worldwide and the US is following the lead of other countries.
Voters have been turning to more conservative leadership in nation after nation -- Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, Australia, France, Britain, and Canada.
The Columbia University Research Institute on International Change comments on the meaning of this worldwide movement in these words:
"A century-long trend toward greater domestic regulation of economic activity and greater political control of international trade, appears to be reversing itself. The reversal of the trend extends to all major regions of the world."
It marks a shift toward free enterprise on the part of many countries and a movement away from pervasive government regulation.
Apparently the arc of relative conservatism is not contracting; it is expanding.