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A Center-Right Nation After All?

The last two election cycles called into question whether, as many conservatives comforted themselves, the U.S. is fundamentally a center-right nation, and had taken temporary leave of its senses in electing Obama and a Democratic Congress.  I was skeptical; it seemed to me that Arthur Schlesinger's theory of political cycles--a version of realignment theory--might be coming true.  

But it looks more and more as though what is really happening is that moderate voters need to be reminded every now and then how much they don't like liberalism (see: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton in 1993, etc).  Bill Galston dilates on the latest Pew survey data online in The New Republic today: "the ideological gap between the Democratic Party and the mean voter is about three times as large as the separation between that voter and the Republican Party.  And, startlingly, the electorate places itself a bit closer to the Tea Party movement (which is well to the right of the Republican Party) than to the Democratic Party. All this represents a major shift from five years ago, when mean voters placed themselves exactly halfway between their ideological perceptions of the Democratic and Republican parties."

For Democrats in November this means: Look out below!
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Discussions - 1 Comment

I'm alot more skeptical of both the center-right nation thesis (well maybe in some relative sense, but not in a how-will-Obama-do-in-2012 sense) and in the cycles thesis. The circumstances of the moment can make one or the other look good. The reaction to the mismanagement of the Iraq War in 2006, the combination of Iraq War overhang, the financial crisis, the competence of the Obama campaign, and the general demoralization of the right made the liberal cycles theory look good (because liberals are always waiting for it to be 1933 or 1965.) The lousy job market is hurting the Democrats (who are holding undivided power) is making the center-right nation thesis look good. Structural factors (the direction that Obamacare will tend to push health care policy absent an aggressive conservative reform strategy) and demographics are pulling the country in a more center-left direction in a way that is being concealed by the (I believe) largely economy-driven collapse of Democratic support among white persuadable voters (and even so, Obama's approval ratings are almost exactly - really slightly higher - than Reagan's at the same point in his first term.) A moderate improvement in the economy, and, after moving the policy environment well to the left, Obama is back into strong- position-for-reelection territory. Then the cycles theory looks better, without actually being any more true.

This is to say that I don't believe that the policy and demographic factors that tend to favor the left can't be reversed by a combination of conservative effort and opportunities offered by circumstance, but it will take alot of effort and some luck.

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