Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The End of Center Right America

One of the more laughable myths of the last 30 years is that America is a "center-right" nation. The phrase allows easy condemnation of any democratic policy proposal: "this plan comes from the left, therefore it's incompatible with a center-right nation." It also makes it more difficult to criticize far-right legislative plans because the pundits who buy into this phrase believe that most legislation should represent a right-wing tilt. A plan that represents an extreme right wing position is declared equally acceptable as a plan from the mainstream left. It's a glorious phrase for conservatives, especially because they get to define "center-right" in whatever way they want.

This is why it's a laughable idea on its face. Whenever somebody claims that America is getting more conservative, it's time to consider what that really means. In Bill Kristol's mind, evidence to support such a claim is provided by a rise in self-identifying conservatives in a Gallup poll. Yet the same conservatives that Gallup finds growing want their medicare protected, their social security safeguarded, and want the government to have less favorable policies towards big business (e.g. TARP). If that's a conservative, maybe Obama really is a socialist. Self-identification as conservative does not mean that a person wants to repeal the Civil Rights Act. It probably means that a small group who though they were being heard in the Bush administration decided that they could no longer consider themselves moderates as Congress passed landmark health care reform, a temporary but scary takeover of the auto-industry, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Forty percent of Americans define themselves as conservatives, but I doubt that anyone could define Conservatism.

What struck me today about the center-right myth is that it is falling apart even in Washington. The center-right deficit reduction commission, chaired by a Republican and a conservative Democrat, cannot gather 14 votes of 18 members on a plan to cut the deficit. The center-right is simply falling apart. Even conservative Democrats and Republicans can't come to a consensus on ways to publicly cut medicare, social security, or any aspect of the modern federal government. The center of the American public wants to maintain the welfare state aspects of the federal government. The right doesn't want to pay for it. That means that there is no serious center-right. It's time to recognize that America needs a center-left solution: Trim the fat, fight waste and abuse, stop giveaways to big business, raise taxes on the wealthy, and protect social security and medicare.

It's not like the Republicans are giving America a workable alternative.

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