Dennis Kucinich: Leftwing drift at work?
A strange new truism has crept into mainstream political coverage. It is a statement I have encountered as often as several times a day in my news consumption. The assertion is that governance is harder because left and right have both moved farther from the center, to the point of two extremes. Both sides? By what measure?
Case in point: a random Google hit:
Democrats and Republicans are drifting farther apart, and partisan-inspired gridlock has become the norm. Thus, people and pundits are increasingly discussing the need of a centrist movement that will produce a candidate less ideologically hide-bound and more willing to advocate solutions that are not part of a left-wing or right-wing agenda.
[from the Anniston Star - What is Americans Elect?]
That the right has drifted in truly tectonic fashion since 2008 goes without saying. It is the in the DNA of the age. On the right, populist rabble, big-time Fox media and national legislative leaders like Mitch McConnell and Michele Bachmann are all pretty much on the same page, give or take a paragraph or two. On the left—if there is a left—there was a quixotic moment of excitement about Barack Obama and then meaningful health care reform and then we got what we got and that was all she wrote. I even wrote a piece expressing incredulity that anyone could call health care exchanges (as described in the “public option”) radical. That is like calling Kaiser Permanente’s business model radical, like calling the public library radical.
On the streets we have—what?—Occupy America—in play at the moment. The nascent movement says what the Tea Party said at first, we have no leaders, and one hopes that remains true given the way the TP was co-opted in short order. So, while the Occupy movement certainly includes members with notions associated with the left, say, forgiveness of student debt, that’s not a marquee position. That’s not like bringing one’s AK47 to the town hall.
At leadership levels, we can spot, whom?—Dennis Kucinich? In the big scheme of things, he is less than relevant, les than Michael Moore. In the Senate we have Bernie Sanders, who is the least radical socialist ever. And the big kahuna, in the White House, our own Barack Obama, has proven, as progressives have held for a while now, to be a raving centrist.
Perhaps the most wild-eyed leftist in the House is my own Keith
Ellison, the Minnesota Representative from the 5th District. Principled, disciplined, earnest to a fault, somewhat weepy—every urban core would be so lucky to have a voice of, yes, reason, who expresses, not so much an ideological dogma, but more just empathy. A pol who cares about the average Jill and Joe. Now that’s radical.
Just because the right characterizes health care reform as a government takeover of medicine doesn’t make it so, and it doesn’t make it leftwing either. And just because they call Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi hardcore liberals doesn’t position them one inch to the left of, say, Tip O’Neil, with whom President Reagan had little trouble coming to terms. So where’s the drift?
What we’ve lost is historical perspective—and a media willing to fact check the rhetoric of the right. Big Media sometimes check facts, but it rarely questions the tenor, tone and context of such characterizations. If you want to talk issues, look at the milquetoast reform under Dodd-Frank for less than leftwing legislation. The 2009 stimulus is little different from what Hank Paulson would have proposed. The application of a Keynesian notion is not leftwing drift. The EPA merely veered as far left as to attempt to enforce laws long on the books. The Consumer Protection Agency doesn’t even have a confirmed executive. How is any of this left of anything?
If we are talking about a sense of intractability, a refusal to compromise, instead of actual ideology, the Democrats can be said to have come off of a remarkable run of compromise so deep it’s hard to see what they stand for on the contemporary stage while the Republicans have obstructed more compromise than any Congress since, I don’t know, the Depression. Wait, I have a parallel: today’s Congressional Republicans resemble the Democrats of post-Civil War Reconstruction.
I would argue that Americans have seen so little in the way of left wing policy in recent years that they wouldn’t know it if they saw it. Why? Mainly because it doesn’t exist above the radar. And while I grudgingly understand that any call for universal health care is seen by many as leftwing policy, I don’t by any means consider Canada, especially here-and-now Oil Sands contemporary Canada to be a leftwing nation. Instead, what is seen as merely normal in the greater part of the post-industrial world is considered exotic and leftwing here.
Ours is a retrograde conservatism, a baptismal conservatism that clings far more to articles of faith than logic or analysis. And the news media, particularly the daily newspaper segment, has moved right along with the Tea Party nation.
I expect to hear the right—Fox—decry the radicalism of the fledgling Occupy movement, and that’s just fine. Some small part of the emerging talking points will be “left,” I am sure. Domestic debt forgiveness might qualify—though I’ve never heard anyone use that term. Instead, the call for a response to unchecked corporate greed and corporate capture of the political process sounds no more left than Republican Bull Moose Teddy Roosevelt and the trust busters. So no, both sides have not drifted from the center, the center has drifted right. But you knew that, didn’t you?