Center-Left v. Center-Right

Flipping through the various broadcast and cable news networks on election night, I was struck by two things. First, the remote control is the greatest technological advancement since indoor plumbing. Second, Chris Wallace and Karl Rove on Fox News, desperate to find a silver lining in the public's wholesale rejection of Republican governance, loudly proclaimed throughout the night that the United States was still a center-right country, based on exit polls showing more voters who identified themselves as conservative than liberal.

The "center-right nation" theme has been picked up by other conservative pundits since November 4 (unsurprisingly, since most of them can't think for themselves and need Uncle Karl to hand them their daily talking points). Turns out, it's not true. [more ...]

An extended election-night survey undertaken by Democracy Corps and the Campaign for America's Future suggests that we may be witness to the emergence of a new progressive majority, that contrary to conservatives' claims, America is now a center-left nation.

Rove regards self-defined "moderates" as comprising the center, while in reality, moderates tend to skew center-left.

[A]s has been increasingly true in polling going back to 2004, broad majorities have a world view far closer to liberals and Democrats than to conservatives or Republicans. ...

On values and on issues, moderates -- with one large exception -- swing toward liberals. The exception is that moderates remain far more about -- and government spending -- than liberals do. Conservative misrule has given them every reason to believe that large portions of their taxes are wasted. ...

But progressives needn't be defensive about the majority that is dubious about government spending. Making government work effectively is at the heart, not the capillaries of the progressive agenda. This test doesn't distract; it focuses us on our task. No progressive majority can ever be consolidated for long if it doesn't demonstrate that government can be an effective ally for everyone.

In other words, make the government work (no easy task given its present state of disrepair) and the center will follow the liberal lead. The new majority of younger and nonwhite and better educated voters is disposed to give progressive politics a try.

These groups share basic concerns. They are comfortable with diversity and tolerant. They are more secular than Sarah Palin's real America. With the exception of the professionals, they are under great economic pressure and look to government for help on energy, health care, jobs, and wages. They want out of Iraq and are eager for the U.S. to share the burdens with allies. They favor environmental and consumer regulation. They want greater investment in education and training, in research and development, in state-of-the-art infrastructure. This broad but increasingly shared worldview makes it easier to forge them into a majority, despite natural tensions. ...

[W]hat is clear is that a new majority is emerging and will get stronger simply from demography. Its members have given Obama a mandate. They want Democrats and Republicans to support Obama and the agenda that he puts forth. If that agenda is successful, then 2008 may well mark the beginning of a new era of progressive reform and the consolidation of a center-left America.

The moral: govern well, and progressivism will follow.

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    I would argue that we are a center country (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Slado on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 11:38:22 AM EST
    However the county voted for center left gov't in the last election. Why?  Becasue they want center left gov't?  Or is the real answer because they'd had enough with center right...if not right...gov't?

    2010 will give you your answer if that is where the county wants us to remain.   Just like 2002 and 2004 showed the country was content for the time with center right gov't.   2006 and 2008 confirmed the country had had enough and moved back to the left.

    My bigger point is the country is center.  It wants center gov't with slight moves in either direction depending on the issue.  Abortion - center left.   Defense - center right.  Taxes - harder to figure out but we'll call it center right because Obama basically ran on cutting taxes.  On and on each issue on the friges of centerism with slight leanings in either direction.  Neith party has all the issues covered because both parties depend on partisans for their support.   Look no further then the current bailout for Detroit.   The majority of the country doesn't favor it.   But Dems can't neglect evniro's and labor bosses.   This would be left legistlation while the country is leaning towards the center right position.

    Dems run the risk of blowing the trust they've been given by pushing to hard to the left just as republicans blew the trust they earned in 1994, 2000, 2002 and 2004 when they where the ones winning elections.  Keep in mind Clinton won an election in 1996 because he governed down the center.

    2010 will tell if the dems went to far with their center left mandate.

    We shall see.

    Let's not get carried away (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by bocajeff on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 11:44:22 AM EST
    1. Obama beat McCain by 7 percentage points - during an awful economy, two wars, an awful economy, a historical need for party change every eight years and, yes, an awful economy.

    2. Obama ran as a pragmatist and a centrist in the election (as did Clinton).

    3. Did I mention the awful economy?

    4. 4 years after LBJ killed the GOP in 1964 the nation elected Nixon.

    5. 4 years after Carter beat the GOP in 1976 the nation elected Reagan.

    I have always contended that we are a centrist nation that moves one way or another depending upon the state of the economy, foreign threats (real or imagined), and the need for change...

    Just ask President Clinton in 1994 whether we were a center-left nation or not. Don't get carried away or you might get another Newt-like election...

    I can predict the themes already. (5.00 / 4) (#6)
    by Fabian on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 11:46:40 AM EST
    Fiscal responsibility = conservatism.
    Responsible, effective oversight = correcting liberal excesses.

    I've got a few others.  The point is that the Right will spin whatever they can to their advantage and get their digs in at the Left as well.

    Will it work?  Why not?  Unless Bob Somerby and Glenn Greenwald and the other media critics start getting some traction, the pundits will blithely create their own realities and narratives fresh every morning and spoon feed them to the public.

    (Apparently Pelosi's "Impeachment is off the table." has grown to  "The Obama administration shouldn't investigate any Bush administration wrong doing because...".  What a wonderful opportunity to let Republicans white wash Bush's record.  Any bets on the GOP blaming Bush's record on the distraction caused by fighting the terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan?)

    Yep (none / 0) (#17)
    by Matt in Chicago on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 01:52:03 PM EST
    The pendulum will keep swinging... And we are all breathing a sign of relief that it is swinging away from Bush.

    It will be nice to be able to talk politics (with either side) without having to deal with irrational hatred of Bush or irrational support of Bush.

    Welcome back Centrists!


    If the Right could create the myth (5.00 / 2) (#20)
    by Fabian on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 02:03:03 PM EST
    of Saint Ronnie, they'll find some way to salvage eight years of GWB and six years of his co-dependent GOP Congress.

    "We had to do it!  It was all in the name of Fighting Terrorism!"


    it is the yin and the yang of politics (none / 0) (#24)
    by of1000Kings on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 04:02:13 PM EST
    that allows for the status quo....

    can't change too much when consistently swinging one way or another...

    hopefully that will keep us out of a pseudo-f@#*ist fundamentalist country, and from becoming communist...

    although, major events can derail the status-quo track...so who knows what can be conjured up by fear...


    Does it matter what it is called? (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by Manuel on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 12:01:23 PM EST
    As long as we get the issues right (e.g. health care, tax policy, civil liberties, judicial appointments) do we care what the MSM calls it?

    Somewhat (5.00 / 2) (#14)
    by AF on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 01:17:25 PM EST
    Because if the "center-right" idea takes hold, the media will say that the Democrats are overreaching if they move forward with bold progressive plans.  

    Let them (none / 0) (#19)
    by lentinel on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 02:02:06 PM EST
    I am waiting with baited breath to see the democrats move forward with bold progressive plans.

    I don't care how the media would characterize it.

    I will admit that the Reid/Pelosi brand is, for me, associated with timidity. I think of them as consistently caving in to any and all pressure from people on the right. I don't even consider them to be not on the right.

    I will be very happy if they do something that is either bold or progressive - but I will have to see it to believe it.


    Excellent point - labels don't matter (none / 0) (#10)
    by obiden08 on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 12:39:36 PM EST
    Obama has to move on the policies he espoused during the campaign.  It's just that simple.  He can wrap them all fairly easily in with the economic stimulus pacakage.  I'd like to see him move boldly and early on getting everything done.

    He campaigned without labels so he can govern that way as long as he stays with policies we elected him to implement.


    No it doesn't but the 24/7 news (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by hairspray on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 12:29:34 PM EST
    cycle likes short quick sound bites and adversarial issues and will continue to frame them as our friend George Lakoff likes to say.  Maybe we should get the issues voted on first and then call them "progressive."

    The election was a victory for Obama (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by lentinel on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 01:55:40 PM EST
    All I know is that Obama won.

    I don't see it as a victory for a philosophy.
    The terms "center-right or "center-left" mean absolutely nothing to me.

    If the economy had been strong, or if it had not collapsed in mid-September, I don't know what would have happened. According to the NYTimes, the "oxygen" had gone out of his campaign after the Palin/McCain convention. Then came the collapse. His campaign called it the "Obama luck".

    Liberals are happy because an Obama victory gives more of an appearance of the end of the Bush era - of the Bush mentality.

    We will have to see what Obama actually does, or sets out to do, before we know whether Obama's victory will have any meaning for those of us interested in progressive and humane change.

    until I can be married (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by kenosharick on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 04:48:20 PM EST
    in my own country we are a center-right nation;also consider this nation's love affair with guns and the death penalty; "crack down" on crime and "welfare" attitudes and absolutly provincial view of sex. Sorry. center-right.

    Heh' guns and gays (none / 0) (#26)
    by Wile ECoyote on Sun Nov 16, 2008 at 10:27:48 AM EST
    GUNS AND GAYS: It's often struck me that opposition to gay rights, and opposition to gun ownership, have a lot in common. Most people opposed to each are concerned as much with symbolism as with practical effects (you often hear comments prefaced with "I don't want to live in a country where people are allowed to do that") and it seems more an aspect of culture war than anything else.

    I like it. (none / 0) (#1)
    by Faust on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 10:32:44 AM EST

    I guess its a matter of definition (none / 0) (#3)
    by Exeter on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 11:40:27 AM EST
    In the FDR era the left was workers rights and totalarian communism. Now, the left is a mishmash of some regulation, some socialization, some civil rights, and some worker's rights... but nothing too major.  So, in the modern sense, the country is center left, but with a long view, I would say we are pretty right wing... and that's the Democratic Party's fault.

    exactly (none / 0) (#5)
    by bocajeff on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 11:46:32 AM EST
    Obama ran on cutting taxes, capturing Bin Laden, invoking religion in his moral background, the need for a strong family, didn't back Gay Marriage, etc...

    And by doing that, he won (none / 0) (#12)
    by TChris on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 12:59:53 PM EST
    And now he has to live up (none / 0) (#16)
    by Matt in Chicago on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 01:50:10 PM EST
    to all of those promises...  Winning was easy, making good on all of the IOUs is going to be hard.

    The "center" is not a fixed point... (none / 0) (#7)
    by mike in dc on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 11:53:50 AM EST
    ...in political space.  It moves, and it can be moved.  There has been a leftward shift of the political center in this country, and our government should at least try to acknowledge that.  I guess it would be too much to expect cable news to follow suit (by increasing the proportion of actual liberals, progressives, etc. and decreasing the proportion of right-wingers).

    which part of cable news? (none / 0) (#11)
    by bocajeff on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 12:52:43 PM EST
    CNN? left of center (Anderson Cooper, Larry King, Wolf Blitzer, etc...)
    MSNBC? left, obamobots,
    oh, you must mean Fox...

    CNN? (none / 0) (#13)
    by TChris on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 01:09:37 PM EST
    Apparently you haven't been watching Lou Dobbs or Nancy Grace or (before he was hired away by Fox) Glenn Beck.

    Yes CNN... (none / 0) (#15)
    by Matt in Chicago on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 01:48:05 PM EST
    Those three individuals represent outlandish voices within the CNN choir.  Simply because they have shows, that doesn't make them representative of the entire Network.

    Much like having Judith Miller on Fox doesn't suddenly make them liberal or progressive or whatever...


    oh please... (none / 0) (#21)
    by mike in dc on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 02:48:57 PM EST
    MSNBC: Scarborough, Buchanan, Barnicle, et al
    CNN: Dobbs, Beck, et al

    Mainly I was referring to the guests they have on for panel discussions--there's about 5 John Funds or David Brooks for every 1 Vanden Heuvel, and people like Aravosis or Sirota or Markos are still pretty hard to find on cable news.


    UHC vs troubled asset relief program (TARP) (none / 0) (#22)
    by ding7777 on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 02:58:50 PM EST
    center left when it benefits most if not all

    center right when it benefits only a select few  

    Thats the part that bothers me the most. (none / 0) (#23)
    by Salo on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 03:40:54 PM EST
    bailing out banks etc seems like a waste of money.