A “Center-Right” Country?

We hear repeatedly that President Obama and the Democrats’ shouldn’t attempt any boldly progressive reforms because we live in a “center-right” country. Pundits like Charles Krauthammer, when they’re not warning us about the danger of deficits they helped Bush create, constantly tell us that any problem in Washington stems from the Democrats not accepting that America is a “center-right” country. Implicit in this view is that the majority of Americans look to the Republicans for leadership.

But despite the propaganda, public opinion polls consistently show that most people favor a public health care option; don’t like the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan; believe the military budget is too big; and love Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance. Even the Defense Secretary and the Joint Chiefs of Staff endorse the idea that gay and lesbian military personnel should have the same rights as heterosexuals. Polls also show that most people despise Wall Street; hate “partisan bickering” (which is pretty much all the Republicans know how to do); and don’t like the way money has corrupted Washington. These trends are not new. In 1980 and 1984, Ronald Reagan won two decisive elections but polls then showed that most people opposed many of his key policies.

From 1954 to 1994 this “center-right” country elected a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. During the Clinton years NAFTA, the WTO, and deregulating the Telecom and “Financial Services” industries were extremely unpopular. In 2000, this “center-right” country required five right-wing members of the Supreme Court to shoehorn Bush into the presidency. In 2002, this “center-right” country had to be lied to about “weapons of mass destruction” to bring it to war against Iraq. In 2006, this “center-right” country threw out the Republicans from both chambers of Congress, and then two-years later elected a Democratic president who is African American.

Perhaps more telling is the fact that in this “center-right” country the Republicans have to hide their true intentions and falsify their agenda to shield it from public scrutiny. Frank Luntz has a thriving business based entirely on misrepresenting and twisting right-wing ideas to make them sound palatable. If this were a “center-right” country the Republican ideas that Luntz and his imitators hawk would be lapped up without all the dishonest “focus-grouped” embroidery.

Similarly, George W. Bush owned a Hollywood stage set he called “a ranch” in Crawford, Texas. He “cleared brush” for the cameras to pretend he was a “cowboy” instead of a Yale-Harvard, blue-blood, trust fund, silver spoon, preppy boy. As soon as he was out of power Bush jettisoned the “ranch” and now lives in his rightful place in a wealthy gated suburb. No more “brush clearing” for him. Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck and the rest of them “clear brush” too. They each make more money in an hour than most of their listeners and viewers do in a year, yet there they are each day play-acting the role of just “regular guys.” “Regular guys” whose neighbors aren’t bricklayers, schoolteachers, and letter carriers, but CEOs, bond traders, and hedge-fund managers.

This kind of play-acting contains within it a class-conscious assumption that if working people understood where the Republican Party is coming from, (i.e. maintaining a corporate plutocracy), its candidates would never win a national election. These class charades are nothing but elaborate tricks to convince working people to vote against their own humble interests. In a truly “center-right” country this kind of ruling-class flim-flammery would not be necessary.

Republicans, “moderate” Democrats like Evan Bayh, and TV chatterers also whine about “bipartisanship” even while they use it as a cudgel with which to beat the Democrats over the head. It was never easy for FDR or JFK or LBJ to get legislation passed in Congress. They had to be “partisan.” They had to challenge the Republicans as well as the Southern wing of their own party. They had to fight. There’s no such thing as a 100 percent politically safe way to get anything meaningful done. Rahm Emanuel might be a brilliant Beltway politician but he doesn’t know American history.

With the hoopla at the CPAC convention and the hyperventilating on FOX News you’d think the Republicans are worried about something. With Citizens United and the Supreme Court in their pocket, and with the billionaires’ club and corporate America backing them, they’ll be back in power faster than you can say the words “President Marco Rubio.” That’s why the Democrats can’t afford to fail now.

Joseph Palermo

Republished with the author’s permission from the Huffington Post

Published by the LA Progressive on February 24, 2010
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About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).