America is a Center-Right Country?

America - photo by Cayusa

This topic was briefly touched on during Up with Chris Hayes this morning. For a while now I’ve questioned the premise that America is a center-right country, meaning it tends to lean slightly conservative on issues. I question it because the premise doesn’t reconcile with the history of this country, particularly the past century. 

Before we continue I need to point out that at this time there is a very clear divide between the two major political parties in this country. Decades ago this divide was hazy but now it is crystal clear. If you identify with a party and you are conservative that party is overwhelmingly the Republican party. If you identify with a party and you are a liberal that party is ALWAYS the Democratic party. Just to make it clear, there are no liberals in the Republican party, at least none elected to federal office. There are, however, a few remaining conservatives in the Democratic party.

With that in mind when reading the following list (which is far from complete), ask yourself is this accomplishment conservative or liberal leaning?

  • Women’s suffrage – the right of women to vote – ratified in 1920
  • New Deal – Economic programs passed and implemented during the Great Depression. While championed by a Democratic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, some of these programs stand today as popular as ever even if people forget when and how they were established. Examples include:  Social Security – safety net for the elderly and handicapped, Fair Labor Standards Act – 44 hour work week (later lowered to 40) and minimum wage, FDIC – Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – bank account deposit insurance, SEC – Securities and Exchange Commission
  • Civil Rights – for the first time in the history of the country major forms of discrimination against minority groups is defined and outlawed. I would also like to add that the Democratic party’s adoption of civil rights as one of its major platforms is the single biggest reason the south shifted from Democratic to Republican in the past 4 or 5 decades.
  • Medicare – Federally operated single payer health care insurance system for the elderly and those permanently physically disabled.

I leave the last bullet point separated because it stands on its own:

  • The United States of America

You might be wondering why I named the country itself in this list of accomplishments. Is the idea of this country and what this country is all about a liberal or conservative idea? Would it be liberal or conservative to have accepted continued rule under the British Empire? Think about that for a few moments, especially if you identify as conservative.

I end with Ezra Klein‘s great critique of America as a center-right country on today’s Up with Chris Hayes:

We often have these conversations about center-right or center-left. I remember right after Barack Obama got elected there was a Newsweek cover story that America was still a center-right country. I think when people talk about this…we talk about this in a very fuzzy way. We have a small ‘c’ conservative political system. We have a political system that makes it hard to do big new things. It is not at all clear that the American people have extremely strong opinions for or against things like universal health care, medicare. If we had a different political system, then one of these 6 or 7 presidents who ran and got elected on universal health care…would have done it over the course of the 20th century. Then we wouldn’t have one of these big differences in our social welfare state from Europe which leads people to say we are center-right. We have a tendency in this country I think to attribute a lot of things to public opinion that are in fact artifacts of our political system.


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