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The US Moves to the Left Politically

Friday, February 19, 2016 2:08
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(Before It's News)

The relentless novelty of this presidential election year has produced a number of articles aimed at explaining just exactly what might be going on in the United States.  A few have even postulated that what we are seeing can be explained as a general move of the nation’s voters to the left.  Given the definite rightward drift of Republican politicians, this conclusion is a bit surprising.  Let us see if this notion makes any sense.
Consider first an article by Stuart Stevens (Mitt Romney’s chief campaign strategist in 2012) that appeared in the New York Times: How Far Left Has America Moved.  Stevens is concerned with big-picture trends in politics.  He begins by pointing out the vast difference between the Clinton presidency and that of Obama.
“Though only 16 years separated the election of Bill Clinton and that of President Obama, the two politicians seemed to represent the same party in name only. The 1992 campaign was dedicated to defining ‘a different kind of Democrat.’ That was basically a nicely packaged phrase to stress that Bill Clinton and Al Gore were not crazy — or weak — liberals like the party’s recent lineup of losers.”
“These new Democrats were for the death penalty and couldn’t wait to get into office to ‘end welfare as we know it.’….The 1992 Democratic campaign was a calculated defense against charges of liberalism. Mr. Clinton defined his candidacy by asserting that Democrats could handle center-right issues like crime and welfare.”
In 2008, Hillary Clinton tried to argue that Obama was too far to the left and that would mean he would lose the election.  But win he did and the pundits had to explain that fact.
“From the earliest days of Barack Obama’s presidency, a comforting assumption developed among much of the center-right political world. The thinking went like this: President Obama was far more liberal than the majority of the country. But given his extraordinary political talents, the fatigue of the George W. Bush years, the economic crisis and the excitement of electing the first African-American president, the country picked him not because of his ideology but in spite of it.”
Obama produced—or tried to produce—a number of left-favored programs: universal healthcare, Keynesian stimulus, a cap and trade energy bill, market interventions….  This was far different from the center-right mimicry of Bill Clinton.  And Obama was reelected in 2012.  As he nears the end of his second term, his own party seems to view him as someone who should have been even more aggressive in pursuing the demands of the left.
Stevens addresses Obama’s potential legacy with this comment.
“One point up for discussion: whether the president pushed the country left, or whether he was just in step with how people felt. He passed the Affordable Care Act, announced support for same-sex marriage, and has argued passionately (if unsuccessfully) for more gun control.”
A good argument can be made that the Democratic Party is moving to the left, but what about the Republicans.  The Republican Party has evolved to an unstable structure in which a few wealthy donors have struggled to control the mass of less-than-wealthy voters they need to show up at election time by pandering to their cultural issues.  It seems that mass of voters, who actually despise the elites, no longer wishes to be controlled. 
“But so far into the 2016 election, conservatives are on the run. Democrats are battling over who can reallymove the country left. And the leading Republican candidate is a man who has previously praised Canada’s single-payer health care system and described himself as ‘very pro-choice’.”
The biggest fear on the part of the wealthy elite is that the Republican masses are not as dependably “small government” as they would wish.  Republican voters tend to like their existing social programs; they just don’t like to admit that they need new ones. 
Stevens believes that fundamental changes are taking place.
“It’s happening elsewhere. Canada has turned left, and a socialist, a long way from the days of Tony Blair, leads Britain’s Labour Party. In this global economy that everyone talks about but no one seems able to define, maybe larger forces are nudging the United States left. Unemployment is low and yet only 23 percent of the country believes we are headed in the right direction. Something clearly is wrong.”
“Perhaps the reality of the new American economy is becoming too exhausting.”
Stevens finishes with a conjecture.
“’Keep your government hands off my Medicare,’ opponents of the president’s health care bill once demanded. Like that confused, plaintive cry, will this be the election cycle when voters in both parties accept that they want a growing benevolent government, as long as they don’t have to admit they need it?”
Peter Beinart believes he has the data that indicates what Stuart Stevens only suggests.  He lays out his case in an article that appeared in The Atlantic: Why America Is Moving Left.
Beinart covers the re-liberalization of the Democratic Party in some detail.  He, in fact, pinpoints when the pivot occurred. 
“If the lesson of the Reagan era had been that Democrats should give a Republican president his due, the lesson of the Bush era was that doing so brought disaster. In the Senate, Bush’s 2001 tax cut passed with 12 Democratic votes; the Iraq War was authorized with 29. As the calamitous consequences of these votes became clear, the revolt against them destroyed the Democratic Party’s centrist wing.”
“By the time Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, in part because of her support for the Iraq War, the mood inside the party had fundamentally changed. Whereas the party’s most respected thinkers had once urged Democrats to critique liberal orthodoxy, they now criticized Democrats for not defending that orthodoxy fiercely enough. The presidency of George W. Bush had made Democrats unapologetically liberal, and the presidency of Barack Obama was the most tangible result.”
The disasters of the Bush presidency had another epochal effect: it caused at least a generation of the young to break away from the voting pattern of their elders and look for more liberal options.  Consider this chart from a Pew Report analyzing voting patterns in the 2012 election.
Up until the 2004 election, the young followed closely their parents’ in voting.  From that point forward they have been reliably more liberal.
Beinart recognizes the crucial role the Bush debacle played in forming attitudes.
“Millennials are not liberal primarily because they are young. They are liberal because their formative political experiences were the Iraq War and the Great Recession, and because they make up the most secular, most racially diverse, least nationalistic generation in American history. And none of that is likely to change.”
On issues that have defined the differences between liberals and conservatives, the younger voters are pushing politicians to the left.
“In 2014, Pew found that Americans under 30 were twice as likely as Americans 65 and older to say the police do a ‘poor’ job of ‘treating racial, ethnic groups equally’ and more than twice as likely to say the grand jury in Ferguson was wrong not to charge Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s death. According to YouGov, more than one in three Americans 65 and older think being transgender is morally wrong. Among Americans under 30, the ratio is less than one in five.”
“Millennials—Americans roughly 18 to 34 years old—are 21 percentage points less likely than those 65 and older to say that immigrants ‘burden’ the United States and 25 points more likely to say they ‘strengthen’ the country. Millennials are also 17 points more likely to have a favorable view of Muslims. It is largely because of them that the percentage of Americans who want government to ‘promote traditional values’ is now lower than at any other time since Gallup began asking the question in 1993, and that the percentage calling themselves ‘socially liberal’ now equals the percentage calling themselves ‘socially conservative’ for the first time since Gallup began asking that question in 1999.”
The young voters also seem to have little of the fear of big government that Republican Party leaders are so desperate to generate.
“According to a July Wall Street Journal/ABC poll, Americans over 35 were four points more likely to say the government is doing too much than to say it is doing too little. Millennials, meanwhile, by a margin of 23 points, think it’s doing too little. In 2011, Pew found that while the oldest Americans supported repealing health-care reform by 29 percentage points, Millennials favored expanding it by 17 points. They were also 25 points more likely than those 65 and older to approve of Occupy Wall Street and 36 points more favorable toward socialism, which they actually preferred to capitalism, 49 percent to 46 percent. As the Pew report put it, ‘Millennials, at least so far, hold “baked in” support for a more activist government’.”
Even the young who identify as Republicans are straying from the revealed truth.
“The press often depicts American politics as a battle pitting ever more liberal Democrats against ever more conservative Republicans. Among the young, however, that’s inaccurate. Young Democrats may be more liberal than their elders, but so are young Republicans. According to Pew, a clear majority of young Republicans say immigrants strengthen America, half say corporate profits are too high, and almost half say stricter environmental laws are worth the cost—answers that sharply distinguish them from older members of the GOP. Young Republicans are more likely to favor legalizing marijuana than the oldest Democrats, and almost as likely to support gay marriage. Asked how they categorize themselves ideologically, more than two-thirds of Republican Millennials call themselves either ‘liberal’ or ‘mixed,’ while fewer than one-third call themselves ‘conservative.’ Among the oldest Republicans, that breakdown is almost exactly reversed.”
Couple the liberal tendencies of the millennials with that of minorities, and conservatism has a dim future on the national stage.
“When Bush won the presidency in 2000, very few Millennials could vote. In 2016, by contrast, they will constitute roughly one-third of those who turn out. In 2000, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians constituted 20 percent of voters. In 2016, they will constitute more than 30 percent.”
And how important are these demographics?
“Whit Ayres, a political consultant for the Rubio campaign, calculates that even if the 2016 Republican nominee wins 60 percent of the white vote (more than any GOP nominee in the past four decades except Reagan, in 1984, has won), he or she will still need almost 30 percent of the minority vote. Mitt Romney got 17 percent.”
Can anything be more representative of these changes than the surprising credibility of Bernie Sanders as a candidate for the Democratic nomination and for the presidency?  His opponent, Hillary Clinton, once banked the legacy of her husband as president, but now her association with the past is more a burden, one threatening to sink her candidacy.
We are indeed living in interesting times.  Given this leftward trend, and the apparent disassembly of the Republican Party, it is unlikely that politics in our country will ever be the same.

You can learn a little about a lot of things or you can learn a lot about a very few things. Guess which is the most fun.


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