As the wingnut right amplifies its hate-filled, intolerant messaging and the various one-hit-wonder tea party candidates continue to trick voters into believing that "famous for being famous" is a qualification for national office, it's easy to fall off the reality wagon and label the United States as a center-right or maybe even far-right nation. It's not.
Everyone from the president to otherwise smart, reasonable political insiders have, time and again, been suckered by that stupid, narrow and misleading Gallup ideological self-identification poll. You've probably seen it around the blogs. It shows a significant plurality of Americans self-identifying as "conservative." Specifically, the latest numbers show 42 percent identifying as "conservative," 35 percent as "moderate," and only 20 percent as "liberal."
We're a center-left nation. We've been a center-left nation since, well, forever. Anyone who tries to tell you differently is either misinformed or lying or taking that Gallup poll way, way, way too seriously.
Consequently, we're perpetually accosted by timid politicians and pundits who are afraid to speak from the center-left: where most Americans are firmly planted. Instead, everyone from cable news morning show panelists to members of Congress spend considerable time and resources trying to sound like conservative Republicans, simply because they believe that's where the folks are -- the entire Overton Window subsequently and artificially shifted to the right despite the reality that it's at least several notches to the left.
Naturally, I'm not suggesting everyone is center-left, but let's do the list.
A majority of Americans, 54 percent, believe abortion should remain legal. (The pro-life label is also misleading, so we'd do well to ignore polls containing that frame. After all, who in their right mind would admit to a pollster they're "anti-life?")
A super-majority, 65 percent, of Americans refuse to sacrifice civil liberties for additional anti-terrorism measures.
50 percent of Americans, even in this slow recovery, believe the environment should be given priority over economic issues.
Americans are now solidly in favor of same-sex marriage. 58 percent.
A massive 87 percent of Americans believe gun laws should remain as they are now or become stricter.
A majority of Americans support embryonic stem cell research. A majority of Americans support allowing open LGBT service in the military. Overwhelming majorities of Americans support social welfare programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Americans support the progressive income tax, and we support allowing the Bush tax cuts for the super rich to expire. The list goes on and on.
The bottom line is that, issue by issue, we're liberal. We're just afraid to admit it.
For decades, the word "liberal" has been dragged down and demonized by a very organized and well-funded far-right smear campaign. While many of us are proud to label ourselves "liberals" per the traditional definition, most Americans are afraid to associate themselves with the word, given the artificial right-wing pejorative redefinition. Put another way, Gallup pollsters might as well ask Americans if they identify themselves as "vaguely gay elitists who hate America." Conversely, and due in part to a self-conscious press, the word "conservative" has been pumped full of hot dogs, apple pie, country rock anthems and mindless bullhorn patriotism.
It's no wonder the liberal self-ID numbers are in the crapper. As many Americans are willing to tell pollsters that the president is a secret Muslim born in Kenya as they are willing to telling a pollster they're liberal.
Digging deeper, there are other dynamics that scramble and obscure the reality of a center-left America.
Unfortunately, the makeup of the U.S. Senate tends to pull legislation to the right, even with a Democratic majority. Wildly popular liberal items like the public option had to be abandoned in order to win the votes of just a few Democratic senators who wield disproportionate levels of power and weren't afraid to abuse it. As aggravating as this is, it's a fact of life -- for now. While I'm here, can I just say that allowing Russ Feingold to lose his Senate seat will not move legislation to the left. So progressives in Wisconsin need to stop moping and get behind one of the most active and outspokenly progressive members of Congress.
Here's another one. The "both sides" meme. It's a very popular and very serious false equivalency based upon the notion that somehow both sides are equally to blame for this or that. Hell, even Jon Stewart's forthcoming rally is founded upon the false "both sides" meme -- organized around the misguided observation that there's equal levels of insanity on both sides -- as if the unmitigated blather and glaring contradictions from the tea party people, talk radio hosts, Fox News Channel and the Republicans who pander to all three is somehow equivalent to, say, a comparatively minor group like Code Pink. It's a cop-out argument meant to sound fair-minded, but bears no resemblance to the reality of a lopsidedly insane far-right.
And finally, Americans can often be kneejerk and impulsive when we're pissed off. Like right now. The rise of the tea party movement and the increasingly inevitable trouncing the Democrats will have to endure in November isn't necessarily evidence of a rightward ideological shift. It's simply evidence that we have a penchant for temporary fits of political roid rage. We're in a bit of a mood right now. When it comes to jobs, we're understandably angry, but the solution -- electing more Republicans -- won't create more jobs. Unfortunately, there's a good chance a Republican Congress will try to freeze spending or force a government shutdown, risking an economic backslide at the worst possible time. Congress and the press, meanwhile, are mistaking inchoate tantrums for a "center-right" shift and that's simply not the case. We have anger management issues here, and I'm still hopeful that we'll snap out of it and grow up before we put the recovery in jeopardy with a Republican Congress that made its bones by sabotaging the economy.
The sooner politicians embrace the reality of a center-left America, the sooner they'll actually stand up proudly for progressive legislation, rather than running like half-baked Republican knockoffs. There's a powerful, rational, patriotic argument for every progressive vote and every progressive bill. Make the case, Democrats. Don't run away from reality into the twisted contradictions and hypocrisies of right-wing frames. Voters want strong leadership and conviction more than they want conservative policies. Show them.