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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#center-left#center-right#Chris Hayes#civil rights#conservative#Democratic#Ezra Klein#health care#liberal#medicare#New Deal#Republican#social security

  • Steve Schuler

    As much as I’d like to take solace in your notion of a non-center-right America, I can’t help but notice the lack of anything in the last 40 years in your bullet points. But more generally, the problem here is one of semantics. How are you defining “America IS…”? By “America” do you mean the country in its totality across history? Do you mean today, and the last few years? Do you mean its citizens or the politicians and justices making the decisions? And what is it “center-right” relative to? The rest of the world? Itself 100 years ago? The rhetoric of the extremes or the politicians? Personally, I think that there is no question that America’s government AND citizens is among the most conservative in the industrialized world. Take just about any issue – healthcare, religious views, science & math & art literacy, broadband connectivity, pollution, etc. The rest of the world has us beat because we’re putting our money behind (or holding it back for) “conservative” views. If we were a progressive country we’d be leading, not following (or at least keeping up), on these things. If 40% of the population still doesn’t believe in evolution, it’s hard to make the case that we’re not conservative (and don’t even get me started on cultural norms, like censorship, etc.). Even relative to ourselves 30+ years ago we’re right-leaning politically, if not culturally. So while I agree that “America” overall is a liberal idea, and at one time we lead the way in liberal ideals, just like in many other areas, we got complacent and have lost our way, and are now allowing the media echo chamber and extreme right wing to pull us off the rails toward their misguided notion of “the good old days.”

  • I agree with everything you said. I feel like nothing big has been accomplished since the 60s and that the conservative movement that started around that time has pretty much taken over the direction of this country. But at the same time there are a number of social issues where the country has gotten much more “liberal” during that same period of time. I put liberal in quotes only because that may not be the best way to to describe it. But certainly the repeal of DADT and majority acceptance of issues like gay marriage are not conservative. I think the problem is that our political system makes it easy for conservatism (meaning status quo) to persist. It’s much easier to maintain (or even destroy) rather than create. I do think Amerca is more conservative relative to a number of other industrialized democracies but I don’t think we are center-right throughout our history and I don’t even think we are now. I think we certainly have been getting pulled to the right over the past few decades but there have still been accomplishments in the areas of civil rights and discrimination that again, couldn’t be called conservative positions or accomplishments. I don’t believe religious views (across the board) are more conservative now than before. I think certain conservative voices are just louder because they feel threatened by a growing trend of secularism among the masses. As for our decline in health care, science and math, etc. That is not proof of growing conservatism or that we are a center-right country when it comes to opinion of the American public. I would argue that is a byproduct of our political system and it’s hijacking by special interests with narrow worldviews. Sure, there are a number of conservative bubble, Fox News watching citizens that go along with this but I don’t think their opinion is as unified as we (on the left) might like to believe. I think a number of people in this group would have surprisingly liberal views on any number of issues. I think there is only a minority core group of conservatives that have very conservative views on most (or all) social issues. Unfortunately that group has taken over one of the political parties in this country. And again, our political system makes it easier for people to block progress than to make the changes necessary to move forward and be competitive with the rest of the world. But that does not mean the country is center-right if you polled the masses on any number of issues.