America Is Not a Center-Right Nation (Nor Center-Left)

When capitalism runs amok, we turn to government. And vice versa.


I hesitate to pick a fight with my friend Peter Roff. When the tumbrels come to cart me off to a re-education camp on the alkaline flats of Idaho, he has promised to put in a good word for me with Sarah, Christine, Sharron, and the other Madame Defarges he lauds in his most recent post. Boy, I'll wish I had exercised my Second Amendment remedies on that day, huh?

So, I imagine, will the cruelly ravaged victims of rape and incest, and other women who want the option of a morning-after pill, and their doctors, nurses, and midwives, who all will be joining me at camp (if not prison) if the Tea Party types get their way.

But, after many years of hearing most conservatives, some moderates, and even many discouraged liberals repeat the claim that America is at heart a "center-right" nation, I was surprised to see Peter bemoaning "the left-liberal political, economic, and cultural values that have dominated this country since the 1960s."

Hey, Peter. You guys can't have it both ways. That's half a century. Throw in the New Deal and the Progressive Era and we are talking 100 years--almost half of American history--in which our "center-right" nation has somehow been dominated by "left-liberal" values. Are you saying maybe we're not center-right? Or that liberals are just much better at seizing and wielding power?

Well, I know liberals. So do you. There is a whole conservative media establishment based on the generally accurate notion that liberals are silly, flabby, elite, and effete. There is just no way that American liberals were smart enough, or disciplined enough, or united enough, to have subjugated the character of our great American nation for a century. If it were true, it certainly speaks ill of conservatives. You guys must be dim (iridescent) bulbs indeed. And there probably is a Darwinian argument to be made for keeping you out of power.

No, the truth is that, for all the fun we have here on Thomas Jefferson Street, we Americans are neither center-right nor liberal-left. Most of us are properly skeptical of ideologues, and generally vote their wallets, or for change in bad times, or for an occasional idea that sounds like it will fix something that's obviously and painfully broken. Franklin D. Roosevelt never promised a socialist nirvana--he promised "bold, persistent experimentation" to get us out of a rut. At heart, Americans are pragmatic. Read the rest of your de Tocqueville, Ann Coulter.

(An aside: Why Newt Gingrich and Ann Coulter and others on the right have picked a long dead Frenchman who toured America in one of its least inspiring eras as their philosophical lodestone has long baffled me. I suspect Newt knew that the rest of us could not stand to plow through ol' Alexis--there is a reason why his work is sold in condensed versions--and so the right could cite him to justify most anything they wanted.)

America is about freedom, and making a buck. Fast cars and open roads. But it's also about collective action: barn raisings, wagon trains, national parks, interstate highways, dams and reclamation projects, public schools, the greatest military the world has ever seen, defeating fascism and communism, landing on the moon, and making sure that old folks have at least a pittance to live on and pay the doctor. When capitalism runs amok, we turn to government. And vice versa. And that applies to men and women. Today's voter anger is not ideological. It is supremely pragmatic.

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