Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

October 2, 2010

QUESTIONING THE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT A 'CENTER-RIGHT NATION'.... On Election Day 2008, Barack Obama had the highest vote percentage of any Democratic presidential candidate in 40 years. He had the highest non-incumbent vote percentage of any candidate, from either party, in 56 years. The same day, voters elected the largest Democratic House majority in two decades, and the largest Democratic Senate majority in three decades.

The day after the election, several leading media voices, including NBC's Tom Brokaw, described the country as "center-right." It followed a massive Newsweek cover story that insisted the United States is a "center-right" nation. David Sirota made a fascinating observation at the time, charting the frequency with which the term "center-right nation" appeared in major media -- and it spiked the day after the election.

But as much as I've scoffed at the establishment's near-obsession with the dubious observation, the question of whether it might actually be true seems to have become more relevant recently. After all, self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals by a two-to-one margin -- a phenomenon that's been consistent for decades -- and even modest attempts at progressive governing over the last 20 months have caused some major-league hysterics in some circles.

What's more, consider the trajectory of the Republican Party over the last several decades. The Republicanism of the Eisenhower/Nixon years would fit comfortably in the Democratic mainstream of the 20th century, while the radicalism of the contemporary GOP doesn't seem to bother voters much -- at least not if this year's polling is any indication.

So, is there something to this "center-right" talk? Ezra Klein had a good item the other day making the case that we're probably just not especially ideological. Our politics is resistant to change, which represents a certain kind of conservatism, but not the one the "center-right" is describing.

America's center-rightness is supposedly proven by the fact that we don't have a government-run health-care system. But we love our Medicare. We prefer it, in fact, to our private insurance. And we're less satisfied with our system than Europeans are with theirs. So we're a country that opposes government-run health care -- except when we have it, and then we far prefer it to the private market, and we're more likely than people in other countries to demand that our health-care system gets rebuilt.

...I think that the exceptionalism of the American political system comes from its structure, which is conservative with a small-c.

Because it's harder for the government to do things, the government does fewer things. At least seven presidents have run for office with some sort of universal health-care plan. In another system, one of them would've succeeded, and we would have had national health care by the mid-20th century, and one of the central policy differences between America and Europe wouldn't exist. As it happens, our system makes legislative change difficult, and so they all failed. But in the cases when they succeeded -- Social Security and Medicare -- their successes are wildly popular, and efforts to roll the programs back have been catastrophic failures. The American political system isn't so much biased against the left or the right as against change in general, and though there are occasional moments when events and majorities align to allow a political party to achieve a lot of the items on its agenda, they're quite rare, and almost never durable.

That sounds right to me. We saw just such a moment in the wake of spectacular recent Republican failures, which gave Democrats an unusually-large majority, and an opportunity to complete some historic achievements. It's that "durable" part that's proving difficult, especially in the midst of a still-struggling economy.

Still, it's a debate worthy of additional exploration, so I thought I'd open this up for some debate: is this a "center-right" nation? What's the appropriate metric to even consider such a question?

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

If America isn't a center-right nation, then why have democrats been so hesitant and fearful about implementing their leftist agenda, despite holding commanding majorities in both houses, and the presidency?

Posted by: Al on October 2, 2010 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

I think our partisan politics are "center-right", after all, that's who gets elected. Obama may be center-slightly leftish, but there are really nothing more than squishy lefts to his left.

The population is probably, as you said, small c conservative (as opposed to "right wing") in that the majority (the 85-90% with jobs) are content/scared enough to say don't rock the boat, don't try anything new, leave me alone until I call on you.

All of the real "politics" takes place on the margins.

Posted by: martin on October 2, 2010 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

If "center-right" is a euphemism for "ignorant and proud of it," then yeah, America is a center-right nation.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on October 2, 2010 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

I think the underlooked phenomena of our era is Boomer conservatism. It has nothing to do with the basic conservatism of Ike or whomever. It is more a radical and self-involved generation grown older. The radical leftists on the 60s had an excuse. They were kids. There is no excuse for the radical right-wingism of Boomers in their middle-age. But it is the defining political characteristic of our era. Boomer conservatives are basically the punks who never grew up. And, sadly, they have influenced subsequent generations with their toxic nonsense. Worse than that, they inherited a great nation and turned it into a not-great nation. They were slaves to their own resentments and conceits, and their ability to articulate that profound self-pity resulted in major league electoral success.

I also think that Steve is right about the institutional framework limiting effectiveness. Our system is like a rocket engine attached to a horse-and-buggy. It does not make sense. We have these slick optics and marketing techniques, which private interests use to manipulate perceptions (that's the rocket engine), and a fusty old system designed for 13 states and 3 million souls. Here, too, the conceits of the American people, as though the Constitution is like Athena from the head of Zeus.

In any case, assuming Americans cannot figure things out after these three decades of "conservative" ascendancy, sheer economics will figure it out for them. But conservatives these days are nothing but tools. They deserve our contempt, even if the corporate media and inside-the-beltway types find them entertaining and even a little intimidating. American conservatives deserve contempt. They get respect. Go figure.

Posted by: Patriotic Liberal on October 2, 2010 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Not to get all math-y, but we're talking a single point in a one-dimensional spectrum: who "are we" on a spectrum from "left" to "right"? I think there's a lot wrong with that framework, and that's reflected in why "center-right" nation is such an unsatisfying description.

Other things I think are relevant:

-- Polarization. Our "average" may be "center-right," but that's because the loony right is so much further out there, and so much larger, and so much more vocal, and so much better funded, than the loony left. I think a better question might be, where is the MEDIAN voter than the AVERAGE voter?

-- Apathy. A lot of our population self-selects out of the process, because they don't feel their vote matters, or they don't think politics is important, or they're so weighed down by day-to-day struggles that they don't have the time. Our level of engagement -- both in voting and just in day-to-day discussion -- is much lower than many other countries'. So a better question might be, where is the median ENGAGED voter?

-- Money bias. A lot of our perception of the nation's politics comes from who has the biggest megaphone, and the right has by far more money behind it. That influences ideas and elections, to be sure, but I think it also distorts the picture; what we see on the tube and in print isn't the real distribution of ideas and values. How you get at this is the life work of many polling organizations and is quite beyond me, but you certainly need to go deeper than the talking heads or the occasional poll.

On balance, I'd say we're further left than the media and the political establishment would have us believe. But of course, they ARE the establishment, so they have an interest in having us believe that we support the establishment.

Posted by: bleh on October 2, 2010 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

I think one can link this to the earlier post about the Pew study of knowledge about religion. Most US citizens couldn't independently describe or even recognize from a multiple choice list what the policies of the left, right, or "center" (are there really any centrist politicians?) are, so perhaps trying to categorize viewpoints in this way isn't very helpful.

Posted by: elisabeth on October 2, 2010 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

If you put a bunch of liberal and progressive ideas and goals down in front of them, I think a majority of the people in this country would agree with them.
Now, put the label "Liberal" or "Progressive" on them, and people will run away, screaming socialism, or communism, or fascism, or the concervative "ism" du jour.
Liberal and progressive have successfully been turned into 4-letter words.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on October 2, 2010 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

It is necessary to make the distinction between Americans at large and Americans who vote. Americans who vote tend to be whiter, wealthier, and older than Americans at large, giving us a more conservative politics than what we might have if there was more across-the-board participation.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on October 2, 2010 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Relatively and generously speaking, US might be considered a "center-right nation". In fact, as compared to other developed nations, the US is an outlier on the right wing.

Compare health care systems, social safety nets, income inequality, influence of the military, environmental policies, etc.

As Steven Hill in his excellent on-line Washington Monthly column comments, center-right parties in Europe are to the LEFT of the US Democrats.


Posted by: mad_nVT on October 2, 2010 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

I am a Canadian WASP. Our parliamentary system tends to force the major parties who want to govern towards the political centre so that historically there was often little to choose between them. I have always voted for one of our two major parties. I would describe myself as slightly centre-right. Whenever I have visited the US, starting from circa 1970 i have always felt as if I was at the extreme left edge of the American political spectrum. I would say the centre in US politics is very right of centre.

I have great difficulty understanding why you persist in calling extremely conservative democrats, like Bayh, Nelson, Linclon, "moderates" when they are not.

To me Obama has been governing from the US center, but wherever he lands, the Repblicans leap away and start running for the right wing edge of the political universe.

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on October 2, 2010 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

"rocket engine attached to a horse-and-buggy"

One of the advantages of the Birtish unwritten constitution is that it evolved over the centuries: the US largely took the British system as it existed mid 18th century, when the King appointed the cabinet, and missed out on the evolution through which the legislative and executive branches were fused into the Prime Ministerial system UK, and Canada have today.

After Obama retires, he really should be put to work heading a new constitutional convention designing a 21st century governmental system. Now wouldn't that really scare the right wingers!!

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on October 2, 2010 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

The fact that the country is ready to hand the keys back to the party that has caused the vast, vast majority of America's problems, I think pretty clearly answers where this country is on the political spectrum.

Posted by: Archon on October 2, 2010 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

The Democrats have allowed us to get stuck in a vicious circle. We're a conservative nation because the conservatives tell us we are, while the Democrats do nothing to argue otherwise.

Republicans don't watch the polls, they drive the polls. The Democrats, on the other hand, watch the polls. While the conservatives make their case, the Democrats watch the polls shift to the right and conclude that they'd better move to the right, too.

I wrote more about this vicious circle here.

Posted by: Jeff Rosenberg on October 2, 2010 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Patriotic Liberal- I find your assessment of boomers somehow being the heart of fault for conservative bullshit to be utter nonsense. Assigning labels to people would be a more accurate assessment. Most people don't fit into a tidy little box no matter what there age is. You however do fit into a tidy little box. Your self importance is the result of being a legend in your own mind.

Posted by: Gandalf on October 2, 2010 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

I think there is an interaction between the small-c conservative bias in US government and the big-C conservative ideology in the US. Because it is so difficult in the US for government to do anything positive for the country, many people begin to think of government as inherently ineffective. Those who believe that government is ineffective tend not to vote for politicians who make progressive promises.

So the big-C conservative mantra---government is incapable of doing anything positive for the country---becomes self-fulfilling. If people believe it, they elect conservatives, who work to make sure it's true.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on October 2, 2010 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

I think actually what we have is a case where identity doesn't always jive with ideology. How many "center right people" want their medicare, social security, etc.? The worlds we use for our politics, especially left/right are really pretty meaningless.

In politics, as in religion, ask people what they believe about specific issues - and how those beliefs tie together. It's quite educational, especially when they DON'T tie together.

Posted by: Fang on October 2, 2010 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

In the US very powerful and well-funded interests have figured out that they can manipulate social and cultural divisions (abortion, gays, guns, the role of Christianity, diversity) in order to control the political agenda. In this way, they have taken control of the wealth of the nation.

That doesn't make the US center-right. It makes us a nation of suckers.

Posted by: PTate in MN on October 2, 2010 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a boomer, brought up in a middle-class stable family, college educated, used to be a Republican and fairly conservative (due to influence of parents), but switched to the Dems after Nixon and haven't looked back. I'm liberal in that I'm open minded and look out for "the least of my brothers" (thanks Stephen). I regularly attend church (liberal protestant), but don't judge or condemn those who believe differently from me.

I would venture that conservative and liberal can have dual meanings. For example, I believe in long-term faithful and loving relationships, marriage if you will, and with children if desired, a conservative position (or so we are told), over those who are unfaithful or who go from one relationship to another (realizing there are reasons for this), BUT I believe that those long-term faithful and loving relationships, marriage, with children if desired, can be between same sex couples (a liberal position).

I believe in fiscal conservatism (as do most Americans IMO). BUT we should not hold back in our wise spending for education, for the elderly & children, for veterans, for those without food, shelter, jobs & health care, for protection of the environment, for research (energy, medicine, etc.). OTOH, we should be very frugal in spending on things such as war, handouts to oil, tobacco, etc.

Looking at the two items above, I am making a moral choice toward faithfulness, love, an equal footing/justice for all, and care for the earth and its creatures, and against unfaithfulness, fear, hate, a class system, waste and degradation.

We each have our own positions based on our upbringing, education, class and outside influences. Do we come to our position based in truth or misconception (willful or not)? Fear of losing our way of life or fear of others different than ourselves? I can understand the latter, it's only human, but believing in lies or allowing oneself (by those with normal intelligence) to be led by liars, especially when confronted with the truth, I don't understand. And that sums up too many in the Tea Party. Willful ignorance is not a good human trait.

Posted by: Musing on October 2, 2010 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

let's see...

You don't want gov't in your bedroom, your a lefty...But the gov't should be forcing women to bear children against there will, that's righty.

You don't want the gov't involved in illegal searches, that's lefty...But the gov't should never investigate "militia's" that have broken laws and threaten people, that's righty.

You don't want the gov't to promote healthy eating habits, that's lefty...And the gov't shouldn't be telling corporations to let people know what's in the food they're selling, that's righty.

You don't want the gov't conducting studies to see what medical treatments actually work, that's lefty...And the gov't certainly shouldn't be telling doctors about any studies that show what treatments are working for given ailments, that's righty

You don't want to pay for gov't, that's lefty; Tax cuts pay for themselves--it's a miracle.

Yes, there have been a number of these lists here and elsewhere, Steve and others, and those lists still hold up.

Posted by: golack on October 2, 2010 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

I wrote: "I regularly attend church (liberal protestant), but don't judge or condemn those who believe differently from me."

addendum: Fred Phelps and Terry Jones and others in that vein excepted

Posted by: Musing on October 2, 2010 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

The last time this topic was discussed in the blogosphere, someone pointed out that the people in this country are nominally conservative but operationally liberal. They self-identify as conservative so as not to be thought of as wild-eyed hippies, but when asked about specific government activities (Social Security, Medicare, street maintenance, public education, etc.)they reveal themselves to be overwhelmingly liberal.

Posted by: Katherine Calkin on October 2, 2010 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Only my opinion/.00002 cents worth, but I think conservative or center-right is embraced more as mythology than actual fact, and I think not coincidentally as a function of particularly Christian religion (i.e., Conservative/"capitalist"=Jesus, liberal/progressive=secular humanist.)

That said, people in this country overwhelmingly support Social Security, Medicare, and the eight hour workday (even if lunch hours have been taken away at some point over the last 40 years or so.) I think the public largely supports public education, at least until Brown v. Topeka Board of Education (I still think there is large support for public education, but bigots have aggressively fought to gut it since then.)

Anyway, those are all progressive ideas, and offhand I can think of a few more: progressive income tax, GI Bill, hell, if you want to go way back, the Homestead Act (it was amusing to see Gomert or whatever his name is suggesting a kind of/sort of revival -- as if a modern economy can promote/support a very large number of yeoman farmers once again), etc.

Also just my .00002 cents worth, but I tend to think the public really doesn't get the fact that when it comes to the federal government, the arguments and "debates" are really about the crumbs, given that some two thirds to three quarters of the budget is either dedicated (Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, interest on the debt) or not really subject to debate (the "military" budget.) Given that, conservative or liberal is really more stylistic -- or, as I've been telling some of my friends, the difference between, well, ignorance/superstition and education...

Posted by: MichaelF on October 2, 2010 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

That was very eloquent Musing. I wish I had your patience to express those types of differing facets of how people are. It's not easy for me to put up with bullshit. And I think labeling people as center right or lefty or socialis is bullshit. My guess is that most people agree with many aspects of what those labels represent as you have so beautifully described yourself.

Posted by: Gandalf on October 2, 2010 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

"I think the underlooked phenomena of our era is Boomer conservatism. It has nothing to do with the basic conservatism of Ike or whomever. It is more a radical and self-involved generation grown older. The radical leftists on the 60s had an excuse. They were kids. There is no excuse for the radical right-wingism of Boomers in their middle-age. But it is the defining political characteristic of our era."

I call bullshit. The right is getting it's highest support from two age groups right now. The generation right BEFORE the boomers (over 65 now) and the ones born right AFTER the boomers (35-45 - the ones who came of age in the Reagan/). The boomers themselves are sandwiched in between.

Posted by: chaboard on October 2, 2010 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

No. What we have is a right-wing elite with total dominance of the government, the broadcast media, and the financial sector of the economy. In light of that, it really doesn't matter what public opinion polls are saying about ideological self-identification. Really. Don't you an Ezra have anything more useful to do with your time?

Posted by: s9 on October 2, 2010 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

"After all, self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals by a two-to-one margin -- a phenomenon that's been consistent for decades -- and even modest attempts at progressive governing over the last 20 months have caused some major-league hysterics in some circles."

Self identification only works when you have concrete things to identify with. Self identification for republican/democrat is a fair measure. Those are parties with declared platforms and strong advertising/branding.

Self identification for liberal/conservative is not a good measure. It measures the respondents perception of the words rather than their actual place within a supposed framework. Many of those "conservatives" have 0 interest in actual conservative policy but find the word to have better connotations than does "liberal."

Posted by: Tlaloc on October 2, 2010 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

From a sustenance viewpoint, some of this is communal faith to maintain an unsustainable, profligate way of living. This was basically the appeal of Ronald Reagan -- the American way of living is not negotiable. We don't want to mess too much with what works or listen to those who tell us that what works now will not get us very far down the road or may even be endangering our future. Despite how progressive many of us think, the vast majority of us still live like Republicans who defend our way of living and brook no compromise.

Posted by: lou on October 2, 2010 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Yep, a couple of you nailed it. Digby has been all over this one for years; the Republicans have been wildly successful at intimidating media into making "liberal" a negative word, even though a majority favor liberal line items. Secondly, conservatives are far more tribal, thereby more apt to crow about their affiliations.

Posted by: tokorode on October 2, 2010 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Yeats was right. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of a passionate intensity.

Posted by: JD Rhoades on October 2, 2010 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Katherine C @ 12.42 has it about right-I've come across this. People who describe themselves as "Conservative" but take the liberal position on all the key litmus issues.

Posted by: PeteCO on October 2, 2010 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

WE ARE ALL SOCIALISTS, Fabian Socialists. If you read Shaw's book "Fabian Essays in Socialism" you will find that the socialists fought for an eight hour work day, libraries, a progressive income tax, and a slew of other programs we take for granted today and which most people would never consider abandoning.

THOSE who would consider replacing the current system with one more in tune with the late 19th Century, AKA the Supreme Court, would do well to remember that that century and the next saw the complete overturn and destruction of the landed Aristocracy and it's power.

Today, while the Barons of Wall Street may have survived this crash and bought off certain elements of the population the desire for equality political and economic will not be denied. America has been fairly peaceful since the days when bombs scarred the old JP Morgan facade and anarchists roamed the land.

BUT that peace came with compromise... Ergo the New Deal. SO, if in addition to insecurity based on the threats of radical terrorists, the idle rich of America also wish to feel threatened by the 95% of the population you rip off. IT might be wise to restore the balance between rich and poor.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on October 2, 2010 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

America was a center-right nation. It is now a center-left nation. Thirty years ago gay marriage was unthinkable, now the country is evenly split. The idea of a non-white President was not considered realistic back then, either.

People in the media and Washington today formed their opinions during a time when they saw a media and much of Washington to the left of the country. Now the situation is completely reversed, but people cling to what their old beliefs.

The reason why people do not identify as liberal, is that the term been turned into a complete caricature. People think liberals believe in a weak defense and wanted to trust Saddam, instead of using are military resources to go after those who did attack us and trusting the CIA's analysis more than Dick Cheney's.

Posted by: david1234 on October 2, 2010 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

One of the bits of journalistic fraud leading to the myth or semi-myth of the CRN, is how they lump everyone "opposed" to something like HCR - the ones opposed to having any along with the ones who don't think it goes far enough. This happens over and over in many ways.

Also, if you think in terms of "interests" instead of self-IDed "philosophy", then indeed many more people don't really want to lose SS, regulations, get low pay and shabby treatment by employers, etc.

Posted by: Neil B on October 2, 2010 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Talk about a classic right wing tactic. Are moderate Democrats already starting to lay the groundwork for an 'inevitably ephemeral' defense? Ironic considering that a lack of durability has been a ubiquitous complaint about these 'reforms' from progressives right from the start. Has the whole thing been a charade?

Posted by: Michael7843853 on October 2, 2010 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "I thought I'd open this up for some debate: is this a 'center-right' nation? What's the appropriate metric to even consider such a question?"

Well, I would say that the appropriate metric is exactly what you described in your first paragraph: in the 2008 election, Americans elected Barack Obama and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

And since the Democratic Party in the USA today is a center-right party, and Barack Obama is a center-right president, and since they have both been consistently putting forward center-right policies and governing on center-right principles since the election, it follows that America is a center-right nation.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on October 2, 2010 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

While America as a whole might define itself as "center-right", I believe that Americans actually support policies that are more to the left of the spectrum- like Social Security, single payer health insurance, etc...

However, the real problem is the Senate. The Senate is right-leaning because it disproportionately represents small state rural voters. Unfortunately, that artifact of history that didn't matter much when the nation was formed is now a huge impediment to democratic governance in this country. Couple that with the Senate's disproportionate rise in power in relation to the house, you allow Wyoming's half a million people equal voice to California's 37 Million when deciding all issues that come up in congress- a prescription for "center-right" governance that doesn't necessary correspond to the wishes of the majority of the American people.

Posted by: spiny on October 2, 2010 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

There's no "center-right" majority, and the belief that there is one is the result of a false assumption that political beliefs must be distributed across a bell-shaped curve, with the majority falling along a single, central line somewhere between center-left and center-right.

To the contrary, the US is an amalgam of the center-left Northeast-Midwest and West-Coast regions, which encompasses most of the people and most of the productive energy of the country, and a hard right Southern and Plains/Mountain state region.

Because of the initial compromises of the Constitution (particularly the US Senate and the electoral college), coupled with unwise decisions that multiplied the number of what are now virtually uninhabited states (like Wyoming. Montana, and Alaska), the hard right minority is routinely able to frustrate the will of the center-left majority.

Posted by: Bloix on October 2, 2010 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

It's a shell game. Conservatives start by arguing that we're a center-right nation because America's middle-of-the-road is to the right of Europe's middle-of-the-road. So far, pretty reasonable.

Here comes the con job: after claiming that we're a center-right nation compared to Europe, right-wingers then start using "center-right nation" to mean that middle-of-the-road viewpoints in American are to the right of ... middle-of-the-road viewpoints in America. In other words, if you're anywhere to the right of Orrin Hatch, you're a leftist radical far from the mainstream.

Like the best cons, it contradicts plain facts. Like the best cons, suckers (such as the "we're not liberally-biased! see? see?" mainstream media) lap it right up.

Posted by: Johnny on October 2, 2010 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

That should have been "...to the left of Orrin Hatch, ". Duh.

Posted by: Johnny on October 2, 2010 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the case for construing us as a "center-right" nation.

"Right"-ness has exactly one defining characteristic. ("Left"-ness has no defining characteristics.)

To be a rightist, in any time or place, it is necessary and sufficient to believe that there are groups whom the law should protect but should not bind, and other groups whom the law should bind but should not protect.

Vile and odious though this notion is, very, very nearly every American believes it on some level. So much for the "-right"...

...but most people also want to pretend that they believe in the rule of law, so there's the "center-" .

My advice to the left is to paraphrase Disraeli: "I will not go down to posterity talking bad philosophy".

The law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone; it cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone. This is the Grand Bargain of civilization, and we have lost it. Let its restoration be the cause of the "Left". The "Right" has never accepted it and they never will, even as a deceptive tactic; it is definitionally alien to them; it cannot pass their lips, even in mock.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on October 2, 2010 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

What we have is a right-wing elite with total dominance of the government, the broadcast media, and the financial sector of the economy. In light of that, it really doesn't matter what public opinion polls are saying about ideological self-identification. Really. Don't you an Ezra have anything more useful to do with your time?
Posted by: s9

really! then please explain why every major change in this country over the last 80 years, from social security, to civil rights to medicare to women's rights to health care reform have come from the left?

secularAnimist,

depending on your own personal view point, you can put either party any place you like on the political spectrum. simply declaring the democrats and obama to be center-right isn't particularly useful other than to identify your own particular view point.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on October 2, 2010 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK

Should "On Election Day 2008, Barack Obama had the highest vote percentage of any Democratic presidential candidate in 40 years." be "...in 44 years." As I recall* Humphrey lost to Nixon in 68.

*I really do recall. I'm really to old to be commeting on a blog.

Re Al "If America isn't a center-right nation, then why have democrats been so hesitant and fearful ..."


I didn't know that Al thought that democrats were necessarily certainly always right about everything. He clearly does as he argues that their belief is proof.

To try to answer his rhetorical question. They are whimps. They hear more from richer people than poorer people and richer people are to the right of poorer people. They look at the conservative moderate liberal self identification polls and think people are responding based on views on public policy. They are influenced by lobbyists who represent concentrated interests. They care about donors as well as voters. They want cushy jobs as lobbyists for their staffers and themselves when they retire. They are much richer than average. They are influenced by the press which just doesn't report public attitudes on, well, what they call class war and most Americans call fairness.

Quick pop quiz. In 1999, what fraction of US adults polled by Gallup thought "upper-income people" were paying less than their fair share of taxes ?
How about in 1992 ?

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on October 2, 2010 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

Lots of good posts. However, I think the best way to look at this is just to compare this country with other countries to get a good sense. I agree with a lot of Ezra's post especially his point that the conservative nature of our system is responsible for many of the so-called differences between us and other high-income countries.

However I am not sure the system itself can be entirely blamed for the positions our political parties take to win votes. I think in almost every other high income country in the world the current day Democratic party would be a centrist to center right political party and the Republican party a far-right populist party.

That as much as anything leads me to think that yes, this is a center right country.

Posted by: Monty on October 2, 2010 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

gandalf: whatever you say. There is in fact a generational component to all this. In the recent past, it has been used to indict "the left." In fact, the generational indictment should flow the other way.

No doubt Boomer conservatives inherit a tree of crazy that always afflicted the American body politic. From anti-federalist to Jacksonian to secessionist to dixiecrat to modern-era Reep, there has always been an element in our political life who have just frankly been ungovernable and not up to civilized order. So the roots of their radical heritage is deep. Problem is that marketing has developed to such a degree that predatory commercial interests can jack these clowns around like little children. Which is where we are at today.

Posted by: patriotic liberal on October 2, 2010 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

At the rate things are going, the nation will soon have to be described as right-lunatic.

Posted by: SquareState on October 2, 2010 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

Our country used to be exceptionally un-ideological, compared to almost any other. One of the most dispiriting elements in modern American discourse, though, is the shift in attention from whether something works or not to what label is affixed to it. That's the essence of ideology and a close cousin to failure. I hate to see it take root here. I'm looking at you, Limbaugh, Beck, Fox, Palin, Tea Party.

Posted by: Jon on October 2, 2010 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

And all you liberals who want more progressive policies can start by attacking the intentional defacement of the meaning of "Liberal" and the blatant fallacy of terms like "pro-life" and "real American." Whoever defines these words has real power, and liberals let others define the words.

Posted by: Jon on October 2, 2010 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter version of Jon:
BLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHLVAH

Posted by: citizen_paIN on October 2, 2010 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

It doesn't matter what the politics of the country is if power has been hijacked by right wing extremists. That has been the case more often than not in the last hundred years. Just look at the ridiculous "wars" and the bloated military establishment.

Posted by: Bob M on October 2, 2010 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

No, no, no, you guppy: BLAHblahBLAHBLAHblahblah. Cripes, what a tin ear.

Posted by: Jon on October 2, 2010 at 10:56 PM | PERMALINK

Where exactly is the center? Who is there? What do they believe in? Who do they vote for? What are their values?

To me the right (near, far, or otherwise) is basically represented by Fox News, the Birthers, the Tenthers, the Tea Baggers, Rev. Beck, Limbaugh, the Pauls, etc.

The center, if there are such people, is unknown.

The left is Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid?

The far left is Bill Maher, Rachel Maddowr?

In a way when we say the country is center-right we might as well say the country is right wing.

The center is a unicorn, it exists only in our hopeful imagination.

Posted by: mickster99 on October 3, 2010 at 3:41 AM | PERMALINK

secularanimist bleats: "really! then please explain why every major change in this country over the last 80 years, from social security, to civil rights to medicare to women's rights to health care reform have come from the left?"

Two reasons: A) our right-wing elite has only achieved total domination in the last twenty of those eighty years, and B) the one "major change" in your list that happened during those twenty years, i.e. health reform, is only an untrustworthy promise of a badly constructed illusion of major change, which is supposed to happen four years from now, but almost certainly won't.

Posted by: s9 on October 3, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, I'm one a them thar filthy european socialists, so who else would you ask?
Dunno what your people are, all in all, but in politics? Yeah... You're not just "center-right", you're faaaaaaaaaaaaar right.

Posted by: HMDK on October 4, 2010 at 6:21 AM | PERMALINK

s9 wrote: "secularanimist bleats: 'really! then please explain ...'"

FYI, you are mistakenly attributing words posted by mudwall jackson (October 2, 2010 at 5:39 PM) to me.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on October 4, 2010 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks for post and other tips. Now I’m making my own design.

Posted by: uggs boots on November 29, 2010 at 6:38 AM | PERMALINK
Post a comment









Remember personal info?










 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly