The demise of the left and the new (un)reality: a center-right America

September 1, 2010 by · 4 Comments 

Let’s face it, these are dark days for the left. As we barrel toward the November elections and an almost certain triumph for the GOP, we are losing the national debate and making giant strides backward on key issues.

It’s the new (un)reality:

  • George W. Bush is steadily and surely being rehabilitated and now the question is how much gratitude we owe him.
  • Sarah Palin can move the public discourse with a single tweet, promoting a worldview consisting of unreflective, nationalistic soundbites.
  • Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Fox are dominating the national conversation, feeding a steady stream of propaganda packaged as moral platitudes to tens of millions of true believers.
  • In the face of overwhelming evidence, climate deniers are choking the life out of the environmental movement and willfully condemning humanity to a calamitous future.
  • From ACORN to Van Jones, liberal scalps are being taken with impunity.
  • Feminism is being redefined and repossessed by anti-feminists.
  • Women are facing an all-out assault on choice.
  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is being co-opted by a radio jock.
  • Schoolbooks are being rewritten to reflect the radical right’s anti-science views.
  • The rich-poor divide grows by the minute and teachers and nurses struggle to get by while bankers get massive bonuses.
  • We mark the end of a war based on lies with congratulations to all, and we escalate another war with scarce resources that could save countless lives.
  • An oil spill that should have been a historic inflection point gets excised from public awareness by our own government and disappears down the memory hole (until the next disaster).
  • Guns abound and the far right’s interpretation of the second amendment (the only one that seems to matter) is now inviolate.
  • Bigotry and discrimination against immigrants, against Muslims, against gays and lesbians is mainstream and rampant.
  • The frightening unconstitutional excesses of the Bush administration have been enshrined and reinforced by a Democratic White House, ensuring that they will become precedent and practice.
  • Girls and women across the planet continue to get beaten, raped, ravaged, mutilated, and murdered while sports games induce a more passionate response.

All this a meager eighteen months after a wave of hope swept the nation and gave heart to progressives who had battled for sanity and rationality during the dark days of Bush. Well, these days are much darker. Already the national discourse is conducted on the right’s terms.  The marginalization of liberal thought under Bush-Cheney has only accelerated under Obama, and we must accept that indeed, America is — or is becoming — a center-right nation.

Why is this? My thoughts:

There is a simple formula for rightwing dominance of our national debate, even when Democrats are in charge: move the conversation as extreme right as possible, then compromise toward the far right.

This is something Republicans are willing to do while Democrats are not. The media plays along, so the net effect is for rightwing framing to prevail. And prevail it has. The consequence is that public opinion is shifting to the right.

The only question is how far right it can go before there’s a correction. I’m not optimistic.

UPDATE: Let me just add that by no means is this about quitting, but about being realistic. I’d never advocate giving up the progressive fight and I relish taking on those who want to take America “back” instead of taking it forward. With all the setbacks — and we’re facing a major one now — I have faith in the inexorable march of progress. Ultimately, humans will civilize themselves. Let’s hope we don’t bake our species out of existence before that happens.

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4 Responses to “The demise of the left and the new (un)reality: a center-right America”
  1. Connie Vogel says:

    Peter, I’ve been following you on Twitter for a few months now, and your tweets are always interesting to me.

    It has been my experience that just when it is the darkest, that is when things start to turn around. I am beginning to see some marginalization of the Right Establishment views, which are held primarily by the Tea Party and Fox cable viewers. For example, I monitor the Facebook page of Senator John Cornyn and have noticed some change in sentiment over the last couple of months. I suspect that the Tea Party and Fox cable may simply self destruct in time, and will damage the GOP in the process. They are already dividing the party.

    This is the time when the other +70% of this country, which is minus the Tea Party and Fox cable viewers, must come together and support the Obama administration. This +70% includes the true mainstream, who are gathered somewhere around the Center, and they may be Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, Democrats, etc.

    President Obama must lead a majority in this country in order for progressive change to happen. I only hope that this majority unites before the November elections. In any event, I believe that November will turn out much better for the Democrats than feared. The most important thing is for the Democrats to unify the majority and get them to the polls because the Tea Party will certainly be there.

    • Ike says:

      Connie… I don’t know that 70% of the people really want the progressive change you’re talking about.

      I think 70% of the country is firmly in the middle, and tired of the 15 on the right and the 15 on the left preaching Armageddon if we don’t give them the car keys and the password to the Sky Captain Decoder Ring.

      The 70% in the middle will reach out to the side that has the greatest chance of reining in the reigning.

      Peter, I think this also may fly in the face of your premise, that we are moving to the right. The ballast is settling to the right because the pendulum of power is to the left.

  2. Nick says:

    You know, it’s time to stop blaming the media for complicity. Fact is they are pawns not power brokers. The media is routinely pushed around by the far-right and they go along because Democrats are unwilling to push stridently BACK. If Obama and other Democratic leaders (both in government and outside government) aggressively engaged the media and the media still trended right then it would be plausible to blame them – but Democrats are simply not confrontational and aggressive enough – so the media trends right. The squeaky wheel gets the story.

    If Democrats want to win they need to stop conceding every battle and they need to embrace the far left as a natural balance to the far right. Instead the far-left is hung out to dry by Democrats. The middle of our political dialogue isn’t where the left and right are split (i.e. the median). The far right so skews the demarcation of the center that the center is meaningless as a concept. The Democrats inability to counter this trend is seen as weakness. Americans will typically choose incompetence (Republicans) over weakness (Democrats).

  3. Imagine how Republicans felt after Obama won. They went from “permanent Republican majority” to a guy with a Hussein as a middle-name in four years. The Democrats enjoyed two great cycles and built up impressive majorities in both the House and the Senate. In short, Republicans were looking at the founding of a post-Reagan center-left America.

    Now, imagine you’re a Democrat in early September. You went from a post-Reagan center-left America to this “new (un)reality” of a center-right America in only two years. Marxism, Mexicans, and Muslims dominate the news cycles. In short, the left is looking at a “re-boot” of Reagan’s center-right America.

    My point is that in each scenario, the opposition faces a choice. They can either roll over and accept it or they fight tooth and nail against values they hold anathematic. The right chose to fight and are now looking to reap those rewards.

    The question is: will the left?

    Is it going to be tough? Hell yes it will be. The coalition that comprises the center-left in America is the young, the poor, minorities, and the highly educated. Three of those groups are damn near impossible to organize effectively and vote at historically lower rates than their right-wing counterparts.

    But can it be done? Absolutely. The fact that Obama won is proof of that.

    The only way America will become permanently center-right is if the center-left packs it up and goes home. We will lose some battles (gun control) but we are on the right side of history for plenty of others (gay marriage, campaign finance reform, rethinking Afghanistan, cleaning up the environment.)

    So come November, even if we lose Congress we have to remember that the future is in our control. We will need to get organized, get motivated, and get involved. If we don’t, we’ll have nobody to blame but ourselves.

    (I just have to say, expressing thoughts in more than 140 characters is absolutely liberating.)