Thursday, November 06, 2008


By Carl

I don't know if you noticed it, but towards the end of the presidential campaign, a new talking point was trotted out by the punditocracy in the face of an overwhelming defeat: "America is a center-right nation."

It is so pervasive, and moved so quickly through the blogosphere, that even John Meacham of Newsweek, who generally maintains the least veneer of plausibility and objectivity, trotted it out:

So are we a centrist country, or a right-of-center one? I think the latter, because the mean to which most Americans revert tends to be more conservative than liberal. According to the NEWSWEEK Poll, nearly twice as many people call themselves conservatives as liberals (40 percent to 20 percent), and Republicans have dominated presidential politics -- in many ways the most personal, visceral vote we cast -- for 40 years. Since 1968, Democrats have won only three of 10 general elections (1976, 1992 and 1996), and in those years they were led by Southern Baptist nominees who ran away from the liberal label. "Is this a center-right country? Yes, compared to Europe or Canada it's obviously much more conservative," says Adrian Wooldridge, coauthor of "The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America" and Washington bureau chief of the London-based Economist. "There's a much higher tolerance for inequality, much greater cultural conservatism, a higher incarceration rate, legalized handguns and greater distrust of the state."

Bollocks, as the Brits would say. The election Tuesday certainly put paid to the authority of most of these folks to speak "for America", for one thing, but, as David Sirota points out, poll after poll after poll suggests that Americans are moving away from centrist-right positions and towards center-left, and even leftist, positions on social issue after social issue.

It's sad, in a way, to watch the right-wing meltdown that's happened in front of our eyes, but not unexpected. When you've been running the show and silencing dissent for thirty years, it's hard to focus on what happens when the rug is pulled out from under you. Ironically, the election of Clinton in 1992 should have sent the Republicans scurrying for a re-evaluation of their positions and platforms, and more important, their slavish devotion to the forces of intolerance and religion.

The chipping away of the clear majority that the Republicans had under Ronald Reagan, in terms of the electorate at any rate, should have been a sign to Karl Rove and Newt Gingrinch and their minions and successors that a permanent Republican majority was not only improbable, but impossible.

When your echo chamber shrinks, apparently, you merely think it's becoming more and more crowded.

The overwhelming truth is, when America is in trouble, voters run towards progressivism. Right now, America is a center-left nation.

Greed has its place in the nation, and the grand struggle for the soul of this nation is between our liberal charitable "better angels" of Abraham Lincoln and our "greed is good" conservative philosophies of the Gordon Gekkos of the world.

Ironically, as Harry Truman was wont to point out, "if you want to live like a Republican, vote for a Democrat." It's true, as a cursory study of recent national economic history will show, the Carter years notwithstanding. Our brand of "socialism," the one the pundits were twisting their knickers about, is actually very good for all people, rich and poor. Greed, in small doses, is probably good for America.

America, in terms of current policy, is center-right. I make no mistake about that. The trouble with judging a nation by its policies is that, particularly in a two-party system, those policies are reflective of the people in power and the people in power are not necessarily the majority voice. Indeed, Barack Obama's greatest achievement may be that he has fused power and popularity. In this, his admiration of Ronald Reagan, anathemic as it may have been, holds true, since Reagan was the last president to have a clear and true mandate from the voters.

Thirty years ago, Mr. Meacham. A full generation ago. Now, the tide has turned.

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