The Center of What?

The disturbing encroachment of leftism into the political center.

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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