Folks, I cannot put it any simpler than this. Imagine a baseball game in which all the players played between home plate, second base, first base, and from center field, right-center field, and far right field. It would be a harder game to watch, and it’s hard enough to sit through already. That is the state of America’s national discourse and decision-making. Perhaps it’s always been the default setting on which the US was built four centuries ago.
One of the more optimist points that Michael Moore attempted to make in his books Stupid White Men (2001) and Dude, Where’s My Country? (2003) was that he saw that, after all, the US was a center-left nation. Moore’s evidence came from polls suggesting that most Americans would support gun control legislation and gay marriage, were pro-choice and peace doves. His wasn’t the only White progressive voice trying to flip the script on some of the media’s narrative that the US has and remains mostly center-right politically and ideologically. Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, and a host of comedians-turned-news-makers have similar points in words or deeds over the past two decades.
The problem is, they are dead wrong. The US really is center-right. Why? Because polls are but a snapshot of people and their thinking. It’s a moment where people may put on their best selves, and frequently skew their attitudes toward more forward-thinking ideals, even if they don’t believe them. Polls are about as accurate as a Soviet/Iraqi Scud missile from the First Gulf War. And they’re also about as worthless.
The media contributes to this delusion of center-left by portraying everything as if there are two sides to it. CNN, MSNBC, the major mainstream networks, even FOX News frames everything between liberal and conservative, as if 160 million people belong to one side or the other. While the best arguments on most issues tend to be left-of-center, they aren’t the best just because of one’s ideology. Most left-of-center arguments contain nuance and context, two things that have been anathema in the world of mainstream corporate media for at least a generation.
Since the press presents everything from agricultural subsidies to zoo protections as an either-or, left-or-right, good-or-bad, nuance and context are missing in action, like whole grain from Wonder Bread. So really, if there are any differences in argument, they are in degree. Being pro-choice with a plethora of restrictions is a centrist argument, not a leftist one. Being for some regulation of military-style rifles and guns is a centrist argument. Wanting to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour — the equivalent of the minimum wage in the mid-1990s — is a centrist argument.
Most scholars have it correct when they say that the Democratic Party has lurched to the right over the past forty years. That lurch kicked in big time during the Bill Clinton years. The corporate mainstream media during the DNC Convention in Philadelphia has discussed the “left-wing” of the Democratic Party all week. But they have it wrong. This so-called left-wing is really just “less centrist.”
Nothing proved this more than last night’s competing chants during Leon Panetta’s speech. “No more war!” was quickly drowned out by the narcissistic chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” These are the same chants repeated by RNC delegates in Cleveland the week before. Both chants were meant to shut up those handful of folk committed to something other than getting in line with a political process or their party’s nominee. Both chants basically said to anyone who is truly in left-center field or further left than that to “shut the hell up.” The tone and rhetoric of the two parties may be different — and stances on cultural issues may be as well. But overall, the state of the American belief in the plutocratic/oligarchic nature of our democracy and projection of American power remains strong.