Conservative political pundits like to espouse that we are a center right nation. But, what is a center right country? What is the center? Center of what? Compared to whom? Compared to when? Socially, economically, both?
For starters, always be skeptical about poll data because pollsters are notorious for wording questions in such a way they get the result they were looking for. Equally, those citing poll results love to cherry pick certain results to validate their positions. Poll sample size and demographics are equally important. If the sample size is too small it will lack the necessary confidence level (that pesky margin of error) to truly represent the population. If the data set is too homogenous then the results will be greatly skewed. Finally, it is imperative to drill down in a poll result to see all of the questions that were asked and how they were answered. Case in point, Americans still oppose The Affordable Care Act. Data would support that is true. But Americans universally approve of keeping children on parents insurance until the y are 26, insurance companies not denying coverage for pre-existing condition, insurance companies ‘firing’ policy holders due to a pre-existing condition, and so forth. What Americans do not like is the individual mandate. But without it, The Affordable Care Act may fall apart without further tweaking. So a reasonable question is “Would you will be willing to accept the individual mandate if it means “keeping children on parents insurance until the y are 26, insurance companies not denying coverage for pre-existing condition, insurance companies ‘firing’ policy holders due to a pre-existing condition” ?
I bring up the polling issues and The Affordable Care Act because it is the one issue that Conservatives and Libertarians like to point to as proof that America has moved to the right. In their minds, the opposition is evidence that Americans want less government. But do Americans really want less government? Would Americans prefer the government withdraw Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid? Of course not, they are successful programs that have created the safety net that a developed nation provides to its citizens. Just look at how the population responded to the Ryan Plan (I will admit that the hyperbole and politics killed any chance of a reasonable discussion). Candidates who adopted or endorsed it lost in special elections and others quickly ran from it. We have all heard the story from President Obama: "I got a letter the other day from a woman. She said, 'I don't want government-run health care. I don't want socialized medicine. And don't touch my Medicare.'” This is the contradiction in America. When the Social Security Act was passed in 1935, there was immediate opposition from the right and constitutional challenges were raised that went to the Supreme Court (sound familiar). At the end of the day, The Social Security Act was determined to be constitutional and we are a better nation for it. So have we moved to the right? I don’t think so. Every time a Progressive President pushes a social program or anti-business agenda, the same conservative/libertarian argument arises that we are not a socialist society and these laws will kill American exceptionalism. I am not buying this argument not then, not now.
If we were truly right of center how come Americans universally and collectively approved of the repeal of DADT? How come Americans have moved from opposition to same sex marriage to indifference while state by state legalization of same sex marriage has become more prevalent? Where is the Anita Bryant opposition? Do not confuse outrage from the evangelical backed Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, and Christian Coalition with all of America. The loud Christian right does not speak for America. Yes when Americans become indifferent about same-sex marriage it is a major move to the left in the social spectrum of America. If the government intervenes to establish these protections, some will call it overreach; I call it leveling the playing field. I don’t care if it is at the state or federal level. And when Rick Santorum is mocked for his reactionary position and is a failure of a presidential candidate then I would declare that socially America is far from right of center.
The above notwithstanding, The Republican Party has clearly moved to the right, way to the right, as it has been pulled by economic and social conservatives. The 2010 midterm elections not only saw the Republicans regain the House and make advances in the Senate, but it also included the purge of many ‘moderate’ or ‘less militantly conservative’ Republicans as well. But don’t confuse that as a sign that America has lurched to the right as plenty of self-described Tea Party candidates such as Joe Wilson, Christine O’Donnell, and Sharron Angle failed to win elections. Additionally, the 2006 and 2008 elections went Democratic big time; are we to believe in two years, the country jerked hard to the right? No. We saw anti-incumbent fervor kick in fueled by AstroTurf movements from the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove, and Dick Armey to name a few.
But is it accurate to say that the GOP move to the right has pulled the Democratic Party to the right as well? I would say on economic terms, the country is beginning to realize that the demographics are changing in such a way that an aging population will be a drain on the country’s financial resources. Financial prudence is not an ideological attribute. People on the left realize that spending will need to be cut and taxes increased. Unfortunately, the right has refused to acknowledge the latter. The right has also won the public war on declaring progressive policies anti-American and dead; which is quite laughable in considering that free-market policies are bubble creating disasters in the making. To underestimate the left is a dangerous proposition as demonstrated by the OWS movement that started in 2011. It is disorganized? Perhaps. But there is no question that the 1% v 99% argument is not going away anytime soon.
Compared to Europe, yes you can say the U.S. is to the right on the question of the role of government in society. But that has been the case for generations. The real question is not right of center or left of center. The question is the role of government in enabling corporatism. Yes organized labor may be under attack, not because unions are bad ideas, but because what organized labor HAS accomplished over the last 100 years. And you can bet ten thousand bucks that if the public feels that business is taking advantage of employees again, organized labor will be back in a heartbeat. In fact, in order to help make American companies more competitive, there is a push for the federal government to offer further tax breaks and possible sanctions against nations that utilize unfair trading practices. Yes a dose of state capitalism; hardly the stuff of free market ideology.
Thus, I believe we go through cycles depending on economic times. I also find it hard to believe we are any further to the right than we were in 1929. No, the needle has hardly moved.