The Center of What?

political-moderates1Lately I’ve become annoyed by the fumbling attempt of historically ignorant journalists to define the “center.” The way they do this is by assigning Republicans to the right and Democrats to the left. One of our two national parties supposedly monopolizes all conservative qualities and the other all liberal ones. Those who consider themselves “undecided” or “swing voters” apparently belong to some shifting center. But as I like to remind my younger readers, both parties are well to the left of where they stood even twenty years ago on social issues.  Supporting gay marriage, which now seems acceptable to everyone but traditional Christians, would have sounded like a weird, radical idea to Republicans and Democrats alike as late as the 1980s. The feminist revolution that I have witnessed in my lifetime would have once sent Democrats for their barf bags, that is, at a time when the Democratic Party still had a very traditional Southern Protestant and Northern Catholic working-class base.

I won’t bother affirming all the trendy social changes as “good things” since I’m not running for political office, and since I really don’t care what the national media think of me, or even if they’re aware of my existence. I’m simply noting the obvious here, which is that this country, like other Western societies, has moved decidedly to the left over the last fifty years on major social issues. This has happened under the influence of the media, public education, and expanding government bureaucracy dedicated to fighting “discrimination.”

Our political culture has also gone in the same direction because “conservative” parties here and elsewhere have tried to keep up with the other side. These increasingly non-descript other parties have focused on those differences that the media and the center-left still view as “discussable.”  Obamacare is one such issue, on which sensitive people are still allowed to differ. By directing all their fire on the Democrats’ health plan, the GOP has been able to abandon truly “divisive” issues, that is, social ones that the media, entertainment industry and public educators have already decided for us. This strategy of abandonment doesn’t always work, as we saw in the last presidential race when Romney, especially during the debates with Obama, tried slavishly to take the same social positions as his Democratic rival. But at least Romney lost “with dignity,” as I heard from more than one Republican.  The Dems of course won by fighting with bare knuckles under the black flag.

Curiously Republican commentators have no idea of how far to the left they’re drifting, partly because they’re historical illiterates. I was flabbergasted to find one self-described conservative critic in the New York Post characterize the predecessor of the current New York City mayor as a “right of center” executive. The former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is a lifelong liberal Democrat, who endorsed Obama, but who agreed to run as a Republican for mayor because it was a useful launching pad for his campaign. Where exactly is this “center” located that former Mayor Bloomberg moved to the right of? I’m still looking for it in vain.  Certainly Bloomberg was not as reckless in adding to the pensions of public employees or dealing with the power of the police to apprehend criminals as the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, is likely to be. But I can’t imagine what sense there is in designating someone as a “right of center” politician who holds the same views as many liberal Democrats.

Similarly, I was astonished to hear Jonah Goldberg on TV describe de Blasio as “so leftwing he’s almost like a Jacobin, but not quite that bad.” Goldberg, who was straining for effect, compared the newly elected mayor, who seems radical even by the standards of the Obama administration, to the radical wing of the French Revolution. The Jacobins, who took over France in 1793, were hardly moderates by late eighteenth century standards. They fell in 1794, after having produced considerable chaos and a bloodbath internally. But the Jacobins were utterly reactionary in their social views as compared to the dominant ideas of the present age. They were unabashed sexists, ultranationalists, and expressed racial opinions that Goldberg would undoubtedly denounce as fascist.  Although I don’t begrudge Goldberg his views, it is foolish to belittle those who sound only slightly more progressive than the speaker by comparing them to people who did not even operate in the same political universe.

This may be partly an attempt to hide how far we’ve moved in a particular political direction over the last half century. Those who take for granted what have been radical changes understate their impact and try to fit them into their own spectrum of opinion. But I only wish that I never again have to encounter someone’s made-up parallels with the past and or someone’s invented political center. Enough is enough.

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  • Bryce Armstrong

    What about the crap from this very website (and others just like it) who claim Lincoln, MLK and now even JFK were really conservatives? What about the crap from the likes. of Glenn Beck who say the Mccarthy hearings or the Jap internment during WW2 weren’t conservative. For that matter how about this n
    ew notion that Liberal-tarians are now the accepted face of conservatism from the acknowledged stander, the. Tea Party? What about this new idea that conservative means being a peace-nik coward? These are things I don’t expect anyone to EVER address.

  • Matthews R Bark Attorney

    Nice to read… thanks for sharing

  • Ganesha_akbar

    …get off my lawn!

  • Vlad Lenin

    The left has to deal with the hard fact, that throughout the world, their movement is synonymous with feces. They have managed to get to where they are at by covering up the smell.

  • philbest

    A lot of the problem is the fallacy that progress is all good. The fallacy that the end of serfdom was good, therefore communism must be good. Freedom of religion was good, therefore gay marriage must also be good. Women having careers was good, therefore free love and solo motherhood and fatherlessness as a societal norm must be good. And if you are opposed to progress, you are on the side of the slavers, the medieval theocrats, and abusive husbands.




    Good assessment of how a culture moves gradually Left – especially when the Republican Establishment has no interest in fighting over cultural issues.

  • Jason P

    Odd that Gottfried defines left-right in terms of so-called social issues, mostly sexual in nature. This European terminology isn’t easy to apply to the American scene. I tend to think “right” respects private property while the “left” wants paternalistic government control if not outright confiscation. Isn’t this the big issue?

  • johnnywood

    I registered as a Democrat in `67 when I turned 21. One day I woke up and realized that I was more Republican, but now I do not know where to go except to the Tea Party. I now distrust and despise the US Government. Thank GOD I live in Texas.

  • johnnywood

    Concerning the internment of Japanese/Americans during WWII, I guess you think FDR was a Conservative. Get your head out of your backside.

  • Bernie

    The welfare state has among other things at its disposal two methods of action: one is to subsidize a problem thereby assuring one will get more of it.
    If the state subsidizes something it will get more of it. Unemployment insurance requires more unemployed. If the state taxes something it will get less of it. Taken together the state has been subsidizing problems with money obtained by taxes on productive people. We now have more problems and less productive people. It’s the nature of the welfare state.