FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Center-Right Nation Con

No matter how much social change takes place in the U.S., there always seems to be a well-paid cohort of Washington blowhards ready to declare that things really haven’t changed much.

That’s because, they say, the U.S. is a “center-right” country whose population isn’t interested in those left-wing European (or even Canadian) ideas like national health care. Consider the following:

— Jon Meacham, Newsweek editor: “It’s just this side of possible that Obama will be able to govern what I believe is largely a center-right country.”

— NBC elder statesmen Tom Brokaw: “And this country, even with the election of Barack Obama last night, remains a very centered country, or maybe even center-right in a lot of places.”

— And, not to be outdone, Republican strategist Karl Rove: “Barack Obama understands this is a center-right country, and he smartly and wisely ran a campaign that emphasized that.” (Question for Rove: If you believe this, why were you advising John McCain to attack Obama as a terrorist and socialist?)

Of course, many of these were the same people who assured us after the 2004 election that the Republicans were on their way to building a permanent majority in Washington. But let’s put aside their failures as prognosticators and ask if their premise that the U.S. is a “center-right” society is even true.

* * *

THERE ARE several ways to look at the question.

First, there is the partisan split in the electorate. Given that most mainstream commentators equate support for the Democrats with support for the “center-left,” it’s worth noting that the Democrats represented 39 percent of the electorate on November 5, compared to 32 percent identifying themselves as Republicans. The Associated Press called this result “the biggest partisan shift in a generation.”

Beyond 2008, it’s also worth noting that the Democrats have won the popular vote over the Republicans in four of the last five presidential elections.

In his review of the 2008 turnout, Curtis Gans of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate pointed out: “Democratic turnout increased by 2.6 percentage points from 28.7 percent of eligible [voting age Americans] to 31.3 percent. It was the seventh straight increase in the Democratic share of the eligible vote since the party’s share dropped to 22.7 percent of eligibles in 1980.”

If anything, this is evidence of a nation moving away from the “center-right.”

Second, there are the policy preferences of Americans, as expressed in opinion polls. Here again, there isn’t much support for the idea that the U.S. is comfortably “center-right.” As a March 2007 Pew Research Center for the People and the Press report on social attitudes over the last twenty years explained:

Increased public support for the social safety net, signs of growing public concern about income inequality, and a diminished appetite for assertive national security policies have improved the political landscape for the Democrats as the 2008 presidential campaign gets under way.

At the same time, many of the key trends that nurtured the Republican resurgence in the mid-1990s have moderated, according to Pew’s longitudinal measures of the public’s basic political, social and economic values. The proportion of Americans who support traditional social values has edged downward since 1994, while the proportion of Americans expressing strong personal religious commitment also has declined modestly.

A Democracy Corps poll conducted after the 2008 election found that voters most consistently chose the more progressive of the two choices when they were given a “liberal” and a “conservative” description of a problem and solution on issues like trade, health care and Social Security.

When asked to list in order of priority a list of policies, voters put ones like “repealing the Bush tax cuts” for the rich, providing affordable health care and ending the war in Iraq at the top of their lists.

Third, there is the evidence from the 2008 election campaign. Despite the fact that the two parties of American business can be ideologically flexible, the contest between McCain and Obama took on some ideological tones.

Obama was fond of saying that his election would be the “final verdict” on a failed conservative philosophy. In his convention acceptance speech, he mocked the Republicans’ “ownership society” idea as a cover for telling working people that “you’re on your own.” On the other side, McCain tried to rally his base by warning against Obama’s “redistributionist” ideas–even calling Obama’s proposals “socialist.”

Even though McCain’s attacks on Obama were based on grotesque exaggerations and fabrications, they still didn’t do him any good. When the votes were tallied–even in supposed “red” states like Indiana and North Carolina–it appeared that the public chose the “socialist” Obama over the tax-cutting, anti-redistributionist McCain.

The exit polls showed that 51 percent of the voters said they wanted government “to do more” rather than less, and 76 of that group voted for Obama. In contrast, 43 percent said it thought that government was doing “too much,” and 71 percent of them voted for McCain.

While these facts shouldn’t lead us to conclude that the U.S. is unambiguously left-leaning, we can say for sure that they contradict the claim that the U.S. population leans to the “center right.”

* * *

FOR THOSE who continue to insist that the U.S. is a “center-right” nation, at least one of these two things must be true: either they didn’t observe the same election that the rest of us did; or they did observe it, and have decided to ignore it.

Of these two choices, the latter is the most likely explanation. The entire elite punditocracy that has grown up over the last two to three decades was schooled in an era of conservative dominance that has come to a close. But old habits die hard.

By the same token, many of these pundits are mouthpieces for an American ruling class that has done quite well for itself in the last political era. It has no desire to see the kind of social change and redress of inequality that millions of Americans want to see. But because advocating openly for the rich is somewhat frowned upon, they appeal to the democratic notion that social change isn’t possible or desirable because the majority of Americans is predisposed against it.

Many of these voices for do-nothingism come from within the Democratic Party itself–and they are vying to define what’s “possible” under an Obama administration.

Those of us who want to see fundamental social change are going to have to organize to demand it. And we would do well to ignore those who tell us “no we can’t” because the U.S. is a center-right nation.

LANCE SELFA writes for the Socialist Worker.

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail