Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Monday, March 01, 2004  

We're having a discussion about political action over on the Oregon Blog, and I posted this, which is relevant to a national audience. A few of the examples have been changed for relevance.

Far Right America

By historic standards, is the US currently more conservative, more liberal, or just about average? Most people assume that the present represents a baseline--just about average. Well, I'm here to tell you folks, it's not average by any standard. I'm not going to argue that American opinions with regard to governance are the furthest right they've ever been. Let's just ballpark it and say one of the most. By any standard or any definition, conservatives dominate politics.

(Definition: conservatism values the individual and favors individual responsibility. It opposes state supportive services that are the hallmark of liberalism. Conservatives believe private enterprise serves the civic good more than public institutions. Conservatism prefers competition to collaboration. In matters of trade, it favors more freedom and less regulation. It favors the entreprenuer rather than the worker. It traditionally favors a defensive military and an isolationist foreign policy. Conservatives favor more punitive approaches to social control, and stricter controls on individual moral behavior.)

Except for foreign policy, where neocons have turned it on its head, conservatism is absolutely the rule in America now. Nowhere are the values of a liberal society even paid lip service. Since the "Contract with America" in 1994, conservatives have had control of most of the government, and governance reflects this power. Today the majority of statehouses are controlled by conservatives; in the federal government, the legislative and exective branches are conservative, and over 2/3rds the federal judiciary has been appointed by conservatives since Ronald Reagan.

None of this should be seen as controversial. it's just pure fact.

If one were to have a political spectrum where 1 was on the far left, 50 was perfectly fair and balanced, and 100 was on the far right, America would today be in the eighties. That means that every Republican running for office is either at the moderation point (say 80) or further right. Democrats, by contrast, range from, say the mid-60s to the mid-80s. There are a few statistical outliers like Dennis Kucinich who are in the 40s--just a little right of FDR.

Leaving aside the whole identity politics thing (which I won't actually leave aside, but return to in a later post), it's almost impossible for a progressive organization to move back toward moderation without supporting explicitly Democratic candidates. If someone like Mark Hatfield, the Republican Senator from Oregon, who is about a 50 on the spectrum, came along today, he would be regarded as a fruity liberal nutjob even in the Democratic Party. Such a figure couldn't possibly exist in today's Republican Party.

So let's be honest about this. Before we begin blaming nominally nonpartisan political action committees for partisanism, it's fair to ask how a group committed to civic action could do anything but support Democrats in the current political environment. One could easily envision a scenario in which the country swings so far to the left (in the 60s, radical American Maoists wanted to firebomb institutions that weren't red enough), that civic dialogue would be impossible with only leftists.

It benefits those in power now to not discuss where America is and who holds all the cards. Fair enough--their business is to keep power, not play nice. But for those of use interested in public policy, an honest assessment of where we are is fundamental to decide where we're going.

posted by Jeff | 3:31 PM |
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