Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Myth of a Center-Right Nation?

Progressive blogger Ed Kilgore thinks the belief that the United States is a "center-right" nation is not as true as some would like to think:
Yes, polls of self-identification on this scale do show a very stable "center-right country" in which conservatives typically outnumber liberals three-to-two or even more. This is how Scott arrives at his fundamental argument that polarized elected officials don't adequately represent the people who elected them, and also how he somehow concludes that the notable shift of Republican opinion to the right in recent years has made the system more, not less representative (that's his major refutation of the Hacker-Pierson contention that the GOP has dragged the political center to the right).

Self-identification measurements are always iffy, as is made most evident by the vast gap between the number of voters who call themselves "independents" and the number who actually behave in an independent manner. But the hoary liberal-moderate-conservative scale is particularly influenced by the unpopularity of the "liberal" term, even among many voters who are "liberal" by the normal standards. This is what conservatives have bought with so many years and so many billions of dollars invested in the demonization of "liberalism," compounded by the very different meanings the term has denoted here and abroad.

The kicker here though is what this belief in a "center-right nation" does to the GOP:

It’s worth noting as well that the “center-right nation” meme has the perverse effect of holding Democrats to a higher standard of “bipartisanship” than Republicans, since “liberals” obviously have to move further to reach the actual political center than “conservatives.” And indeed, that’s pretty much what Scott suggests.

Now, Kilgore is a lefty and this is a blog with a liberal bias, but he does share some truth here. I believe one of the reasons that the Republicans have for the most part held their ground and not cooperated with the Democrats is on the belief that the American people don't want a "government takeover of healthcare." They believe that the public is on their side since this is a "center-right nation." In essence, they believe they don't have to give an inch because most of the nation agrees with them ideologically.

But is that really true? Voters put a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President in office last year. The Democratic President said he was going to reform health care and yet voters voted for him. Also this Democratic President is the first Northern Liberal in the White House in about two generations. If we are such a center-right nation, one would think that President Obama would have had a hard time getting elected.

The danger of believing that we are a center-right country is that it allows Republicans to live in denial. Why do they have to change? Why bother with trying to appeal to independents, or why bother running moderates in Democratic areas? The last two elections should have woken us up and allowed us to make strategic changes, but the belief in the center-right nation allows us to think that 2006 and 2008 are abberations and that sooner or later, America will come back home to the GOP.

But I think there is even a bigger danger: it leaves Republicans thinking they don't have to solve issues like health care reform or the environment, or the economy. Their vision of the right makes these issues irrelevant.

2010 will be an interesting year to find out if this belief in a center-right nation is real or just something a convenient little lie to hold on to during hard times.

1 comment:

Transplanted Lawyer said...

2008 is not a good election from which to gauge the true political center of gravity. The overwhelming mood of the voters was dissatisfaction with the status quo ante by way of a combination of war weariness and economic anxiety, so the Democrats had a significant advantage that they would not otherwise have enjoyed. That's not to say they would have lost had economic conditions been better or our overseas military adventures been perceived as going better -- Obama was simply a stronger campaigner than McCain. But I do suggest that this election's results were not necessarily resonant with the true sentiments of voters all other things being equal, because all other things were not equal. Everyone expects some blowback and gains for the GOP in 2010, the question is not whether but how much of that will happen.