A Center-Right Country's Liberal Moment

Jeff Alworth

A few days ago, I tried to provoke some discussion about where liberalism should head in the Obama era (also known around here as the Dave Hunt era).  In one exchange, the estimable Paul Gronke echoed the current popular talking point from the decimated right:

We live a generally conservative country, and the sort of Great Society programs we saw in the 60s or the New Deal of the 30s are the exception, not the rule, in how this country is governed.

He went on to argue, persuasively:

This country has always had a deep seated hostility of centralized authority and government. We have always been anti-party and anti-politician. We constantly look for embodiments of Horatio Alger. We blame individuals for their woes, not government, not society, and not the economy.  On a worldwide scale of ideology, even our liberals are at best moderate conservatives.

I have to cede the point. Thanks to its unique founding, the US has always been a little more libertarian than the average country.  But there have been moments in our history when we've done the progressive thing.  We addressed slavery, workers' rights, created a social safety net, and implement civil rights laws.  At the moment of crisis following the 1929 stock market crash we didn't say, "Whoa, everybody just settle down now.  We don't want to do anything radical; we're a center-right country, after all."  Here we are, in the midst of several crises, and conservatives are telling us exactly that.  To the contrary, I think this is exactly the moment we must make a clean break.  Conservative politics have brought us to this place, and now Americans are ready for a little liberalism to set things right.  I will grant the argument that we're generally not a liberal nation; we have come, nevertheless, to a liberal moment.

In a longer, wonkier argument below the fold, I'll detail where I think we can implement liberal policies.  In essence, though, the argument is this: Polls show that the country has moved over to the liberal side, with a majority supporting things as liberal as universal, single-payer health care.  Americans are tired of hard-core conservatism and are ready to make some changes.  This is the moment to take them up on the offer.

There are at least four issues where the public favors solidly left-wing solutions--the economy, health care, the environment, and foreign policy.  Let's start with health care.  Public support for universal health care is overwhelming.  They uniformly approve of massive overhauls, no matter how the question is framed.  And they even support single-payer health care:

Sixty-five percent of those polled said the United States should adopt universal health insurance that covers everyone under a program such as Medicare that is run by the government and financed by taxpayers. Fifty-four percent went where politicians dare not tread, saying they supported a "single-payer" health system whereby all Americans would get their health coverage from a single government plan financed by taxpayers.

Fixing health care would be a political bonanza for Democrats, never mind the wide-reaching benefits it would provide for citizens.

The economy is a little harder to assess because there are so many moving parts.  But when you break it down, and people currently favor liberal solutions:

Gallup shows that more Americans sympathize with unions than with companies in labor disputes (52 to 34 percent)....  For people caught on the wrong side of the economy, research by the University of Michigan National Election Studies reveals that 69 percent of Americans believe government should care for those who can’t care for themselves. Twice as many people want “government to provide many more services even if it means an increase in spending" (43 percent) as want government to provide fewer services “in order to reduce spending” (20 percent). Majorities say we need a bigger government “because the country’s problems are bigger” (59 percent) and a “strong government to handle complex problems” (67 percent).

Democrats used to dominate economic issues.  The future doesn't look like the past--we can't reproduce a 1950s economy in the new century.  But Dems can create an environment where the markets function properly and workers finally see their salaries increase.  After a generation of trickle-down, this would put the political juice back with the blue team.

The environment is currently not an issue Americans care much about (though when asked about it, they overwhelming trust Democrats), but it could be used to help expand a progressive majority.  The price of gas has plummeted thanks to the global economic crisis, but it will start heading back up in 2010 and beyond.  Linking energy policy and global warming could be a big winner for Dems. Solutions to global warming have been little explored at the policy level, but 70% of Americans want the federal government to take action.  Since Dems are the only one with solutions, we have a great opportunity in the era of "drill baby drill" to put our stamp on the greening of America with broad popular support.

Finally, Dems have ceded foreign policy to Republicans since the late 1960s.  This has generally weakened the public trust in liberal solutions.  I have written about what a liberal foreign policy might look like; as we move forward with a destabilized global economy with interlocking energy needs, this only becomes more important.  Seizing the initiative after the great neocon meltdown in Iraq could establish the Democratic Party as foreign policy authorities for a generation.

In his worried critique of a new liberalism, Paul concluded:

If we govern competently and sensitively and adopt workable policy solutions, we'll do well. If we drive off of the cliff, go isolationist and give up our international obligations, or propose vast new programs, we're in trouble.

I agree.  It is the GOP who is now fixated on policies of a niche minority--abortion, gay marriage, tax cuts, oil drilling, etc.  The "workable policy solutions" we have the broad popular support to implement now, however, are liberal.  We should recognize the public's enthusiasm for these liberal policies and take the opportunity to act on them.  This is our moment.

  • John Petrina (unverified)

    I totally agree Jeff, and this is the time for Dems to take not only the majority, but the responsibility that (should) come with that power. I hope our state and federal administration make informed decisions, that has the worlds best interest in mind, and not just answers that they feel will appease the consciences of the American public.

    I just started reading Blue Oregon, and you guys are great!

  • Phil Zambeeze (unverified)

    I'd like to see every American guaranteed $40K/year. This would instantly end poverty. The money would come from taxing oil companies, not allowing inheritance over $5Million, taxing all income over $250K/year at 90%, and rolling all 401K's into a national 401K that everyone can pull money from.

  • RichW (unverified)

    We may not be a liberal country, but I cannot find one "liberal" domestic program since FDR that has been reversed. Few people these days want to eliminate social security, medicare, civl rights legislation, etc. Even gay rights will come to fruition within a generation or two.

    I view our country as a progressive train that continually travels forward. Sometimes it is slowed down by "conservatism" braking, sometimes it speeds up with liberal energy, but very rarely, if ever, does it go in reverse.

  • Jim Oleske (unverified)

    This is, indeed, a progressive moment.

    And Jeff does an excellent job of laying out some of the key issues on which Democrats hold a decided advantage over Republicans.

    But I would argue that the case for a progressive moment is even stronger than Jeff allows, for two reasons.

    First, I think it's wrong to accept Prof. Gronke's premise that this is "generally a conservative country" and that the programs of the "New Deal of the 30s are the exception."

    The programs of the New Deal were not just "of the 30s." They were of the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and today. In the 1950s, Republican Dwight Eisenhower not only refused to dismantle the New Deal and lower the 91% top marginal rate, he actually raised taxes and launched a massive new public works program. Heck, even at the height of the "conservative moment" following Bush's reelection, the New Deal demonstrated its considerable reservoir of public support during the Social Security privatization fight.

    That's not to say Republicans haven't done much to undo New Deal-era protections. They have. But they have done it largely under the public's radar, as with the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the passage of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. Like the deregulation that led to the Great Depression, the deregulation of the modern Republican era has led to disaster, but it was the result of corporate lobbying, not public sentiment.

    Second, I think Jeff understates the parallel to the 1920s and 1930s when he says:

    At the moment of crisis following the 1929 stock market crash we didn't say, "Whoa, everybody just settle down now. We don't want to do anything radical; we're a center-right country, after all." Here we are, in the midst of several crises, and conservatives are telling us exactly that.

    Actually, Republicans did say "Whoa, everybody just settle down now" after the 1929 crash. In fact, they did it for most of the remaining three-and-a-half years of the Hoover administration, with the President insisting that the "fundamental business of the country" was on a "sound and prosperous basis." The watchword of the day from big-business and the Republicans was "prosperity is just around the corner," and their supply-side champion -- Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon -- remained (in the words of John Kenneth Galbraith) "a passionate advocate of inaction."

    You correctly note that conservatives today are telling us we shouldn't do anything radical in response to the massive financial meltdown their policies caused, but I think you inadvertently understate the error of their position by saying there is no analogy to the Great Depression.

    There is an analogy -- a near-perfect analogy -- between Republican advocacy of inaction today and the Republican policy of inaction from 1929-32, which was an unmitigated disaster.

    Shameless plug - You can read more about the striking similarity between the Republican positions of 1920-1932 and 2000-2008 in my new book: Yeah, Right: "This Economy is Strong" and Other Tall Tales And you can track the post-election economic doubletalk from leading Republicans (including Gingrich, Norquist and Bush) at my new blog: Tall Tales

  • Mike Austin (unverified)

    I cannot find one "liberal" domestic program since FDR that has been reversed.

    Can you name any "conservative" domestic programs that have been reversed? Boondoggle defense weapons systems? Agricultural subsidies to multinational corporations? Tax breaks that no longer have any relevance to America in 2008? I could go on, but my point is that there are very few domestic programs of any persuasion that are reversed.

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    Jim, back on the same page together--sweet!

  • RuthAlice (unverified)

    I dispute the idea that we are a generally conservative country. We are a country of people who frequently label themselves conservative with no understanding of what that means in terms of governance. Again and again and again, the American public when polled on a program's description rather than its name are in support of it, whether it's welfare, affirmative action or the unrealized dream of national health care. People support guaranteed benefits to support poor families, but not welfare. They support hiring and educational programs to counter the damage of racism and increase opportunities for people of color, but not affirmative action. I don't buy that people in America are conservative. What they are is moderate to liberal people who have been terrorized by labels and rightwing propoganda while true liberals have failed to stand up and fight back against the dmeonization of liberal ideas.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    Real libertarians should acknowledge that taxes can be reduced and social services increased at the same time. (One obvious example: If we cut 75% of our current military [read imperialist] spending, we would save over $750 billion, and we would still have about $250 billion to spend on actual defense). "Liberals" who go along with our bloated, wasteful military budget and with our "socialist" program of corporate welfare are living up to their stereotype of "tax and spenders".

  • Jim Oleske (unverified)


    Agreed. And again, great job laying out some of the key issues on which the American people are siding strongly with progressives.

    Notwithstanding our disagreement in the last thread, your relentless focus on critical economic issues at Blue Oregon is much appreciated, and is a highlight of this forum.

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    Estimable? I can think of other adjectives ...

    RuthAlice and Jim, I just can't agree.

    Jim points to the Eisenhower era, but I would argue (and historians much smarter than me have argued) that this is not indicative of much other than a) a country divided on race and b) a country engaged in a titanic Cold War struggle.

    You claim that the New Deal of the 30s was reflected in every decade since, but I just don't think the historical evidence supports you. You claim, for instance, that the maintenance of a one program from the New Deal (Social Security) supports a claim that the Bush Administration was a "New Deal" period. You can't really believe that.

    RuthAlice, I think your survey data provides just the evidence I'd look to. The principle of income distribution has never been widely supported in this country, even among lower income groups (the survey evidence on this is nearly 60 years long). Americans don't support "welfare" variously defined.

    Yes, Americans support government support for the poor and destitute--but that is a pretty paltry description of "liberal"?

    Yes, there is support for national health care but we have been attempting to implement national health care for nearly 60 years without success.

    American suspicion of government is centuries old. Of leading political and social institutions, the survey records shows Congress and the executive branch routinely in last place (and they have been there for decades), well below business, science, corporations. But you know who ranks just as low as Congress--"labor unions".

    "Capitalism" and "individualism" variously defined find widespread support in the American public.

    Rich W. writes: We may not be a liberal country, but I cannot find one "liberal" domestic program since FDR that has been reversed. Few people these days want to eliminate social security, medicare, civil rights legislation, etc. Even gay rights will come to fruition within a generation or two.

    Really? How about AFDC?

    The other areas you all list pertain to social rights--and those aren't what I mean. I mean by "liberal"="government involvement in the economy", which is how most use the term. I don't deny the march of social equality in this country, but these is no reason (other than the stupidity of the right wing of the GOP the last two decades) that these issues are fundamentally big L liberal--they are small l liberal and thus are an essential part of the American political ethos.

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    And for my policy position, Jeff, I think you are precisely right on health care. If I were advising Obama, I would propose a health care solution as good for business.

    Steal the rhetoric from the right and sell the package from the left.

    And fact is, it IS good for business. Our companies can't compete internationally because they (we) waste billions of dollars on health care.

    We guarantee health care and we assure our international competitiveness. That's how we hold a new Democratic majority.

  • Max Berger (unverified)

    I think Gronke is correct to suggest the election didn't represent a huge leftward shift in the electorate so much as it demonstrated an electorate fed up with the economic leadership of the last eight years. In and of itself, the campaign was not confirmation of a broad mandate for far-reaching changes in terms of how the federal government is involved in the economy, because Obama didn't put such policies at the heart of his message.

    That said, the historical moment is ripe for dramatic policy shifts that realign the economic and political structure in the US. LBJ and FDR were anomalous in their ability to create broad progressive change and massively increase government involvement in the economy. But it wasn't by virtue of sheer political skill that they had these opportunities - more than anything else, it was a function of the historical moment in which they were operating. Liberalism was the right tonic for those particular moments in history, and the public granted broad approval for far reaching government projects that at other times would have been considered overly ambitious.

    The financial collapse has provided liberalism with just such another opportunity, and Obama would be wise to make the most of it, both for his own short term political interests and the long term interests of the progressive movement. It is rare that short term political incentives and long term policy considerations overlap, but we have the chance right now to do good and do well. Given the precipitous drop in consumer confidence, the lack of liquidity in the credit markets, relatively high oil prices, the mortgage crisis and the fluctuations in the stock market, mainstream economists on the right and the left agree that massive government investment (2-4% of GDP, according to Krugman) is necessary to stimulate aggregate demand. The economic system is unlikely to rebound in a timely fashion without more active government involvement in terms of spending and regulation.

    Similar to how FDR had to remake capitalism after the collapse of early industrial capitalism, Obama must remake post-industrial capital. This new bargain between government and society should be forward looking, but it should also be bold and not succumb to the false dichotomies of "moderate" versus "liberal."Instead of the liberal agenda of protecting workers in the industrial framework of capital versus labor, the progressive agenda should see the post-industrial future as fueled by the rise of the creative class, where both labor and capital are less concentrated and more mobile.

    When I think of this new progressive agenda, there is no better example of what I mean than the opportunity to remake how we use energy. A carbon tax to de-incentivize dirty energy consumption is not a traditionally liberal policy because it is market based. A progressive agenda should not fear the market, but it also shouldn't fear government involvement if it is necessary for the market to function properly. Nearly everyone involved in the burgeoning field of green energy is expecting some sort of subsidy/ tax plan to make clean energy competitive with dirty energy in the short term. Passing up an opportunity to do something bold and systemic to shift to a new energy economy at this moment of crisis would be counterproductive. We will not have a similar opportunity for a generation. The same is true with regards health care, education and labor rights.

    These responses may be deemed overly liberal, but the times call for such measures and a failure to act boldly is a greater risk given the current crisis. The current path is unsustainable financially, politically and environmentally, and we need a serious change of course. I think instead of being frightened over whether we are going to overreach politically, we should be considering whether we have the balls to go far enough. Look at what China has just done, passing over half a trillion dollars in stimulus to improve infrastructure and social services and tell me why we can't, or shouldn't, do something similar.

  • brush (unverified)

    i'd suggest a couple other lenses to see through.

    most u.s. folk are instinctively libertarian: they distrust big, centralized bureaucracies. this motivates most activist (anti-corporate) leftists as well as rightists.

    most u.s. politicians, on the other hand, use grassroots antagonism against the enemy party (Dems = big gov't, or, Reps = big business) to legitimize support for one or another version of elite rule through exactly those ("public" or "private") centralized bureaucracies.

    there are other versions of public ownership and redistribution of resources than centralized bureaucracies, however; just as there are other versions of private autonomy and economic nimbleness that unrestrained profit-driven capitalism.

    that is, there is grassroots, decentralized people power, in which small-scale political and economic and social organizations directly control resources and relationships to take action on the great issues of our time.

    that's what people in this country, "right" or "left", are yearning for.

    that's what we need, if we're really to face the problems of the future (much greater than those of the past).


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    It's a new world. When you see Max Baucus propose mandatory health insurance, you knuw something big has changed.

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    More grist for the mill: "The New Liberalism" by George Packer at the New Yorker:

    Barack Obama’s decisive defeat of John McCain is the most important victory of a Democratic candidate since 1932. It brings to a close another conservative era, one that rose amid the ashes of the New Deal coalition in the late sixties, consolidated its power with the election of Ronald Reagan, in 1980, and immolated itself during the Presidency of George W. Bush. Obama will enter the White House at a moment of economic crisis worse than anything the nation has seen since the Great Depression; the old assumptions of free-market fundamentalism have, like a charlatan’s incantations, failed to work, and the need for some “new machinery” is painfully obvious. But what philosophy of government will characterize it?

    It's a pretty fascinating read.

  • Fireslayer (unverified)

    Jon Stewart recently tried to make a point that Bill O'Reily deftly cut off: This is not a center-right country on the major issues. Let me elucidate:

    67% want a short time-line Iraq withdrawl;

    65% want some form of abortion available by choice;

    67% want universal health care (and this number is trending upwards rapidly as I write;)

    82% want Social Security in it's approximate form and only 10% want privitization;

    80% believe global warming is real and want it addressed;

    85% of us resent oil company price gouging and all but a few of these associate Big Oil with the GOP;

    Depending on the program, a substantial majority of people want government intervention in the economy and other social safety nets;

    These issues show vast differences between the liberals and the illiberals or the progressives and the corporativists. Note I do not use the common malapropism "conservative" because people who rally under that banner tend to either conserve nothing or agree with the majorities on the "liberal" notions set out above.

    The right-wing has a sizeable, but thankfully shrinking majority on gay marriage and flag burning. Whoppee for them.

    Well I believe the flag burners have a right to express themsselves just as does the soldier who swore to defend the flag might have some rights of expression that the burners won't enjoy. Neither should be a police matter.

    Having gay married friends & political allies and the issue having engaged the public I have to support the right to pursue happiness etc. I must also confess feeling this issue of definition, as apart from equal rights principles otherwise embodied in civil union, should really be fought out in the board rooms of Websters & the O.ed. With or without constitutional pomposities, the term "marriage" will go more or less the way of the term "gay," the icon of the pirate and the color band of the rainbow. The religious wrong be damned.

    The points being: 1) the hot button issues of the ultra-right are not central to the main policy dialouges of our Republic and 2) the ultra-right, having stealthed in Bush/Cheney and seen them pushed out of power by a man they termed a Socialist, Terrorist (they would also add the N word here) loving Muslim are no longer in a position to dictate policy behind a smokescreen of the usual charred red herrings.

    Thank God, Goddess, the Gods or your lucky stars.

  • Gregor (unverified)

    The Left can take the lead if they can control the message. For instance, did Dubya really tell the members of the G-20 economic summit this was not the time to derail the conservative agenda? What about the collapse of the American economic system bleeding into the world market suggests he has anything to say at all about economies?!? Dubya deregulated everything he could and it did not work. Why would we continue in that direction? Why didn't someone ask, "How's that been working for you, George?"

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    The Democrats have won on nearly every issue, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, universal health care, environmental protection, rights to organize unions. Economic crisis has allowed the "fear and smear", "divide and distract" tactics to be ignored in favor of real issues.

    The rulers of the Republican party are now Rush Limbaugh and James Dobson and their surrogates. There is no one left in the Republican Party who is not a fanatic, extremist, or a nut-case. And those who are left are marginalized. The words of Norma Paulus are prophetic "There is no one left in the Republican Party I can talk to." America is Center-Left on policy issues, and has been since the New Deal. Only when there is distraction does the country vote Republican. Even Reagan at his zenith was well liked but the majority always disagreed with him on the prominent policy issues of the day. And the so-called Gingrich Revolution, which quickly fizzled, was more about punishing the arrogance of the Democratic Party than siding with the Republicans on policy issues. To this day the ideology of the Republican Party is extremist and set on dismantling the New Deal social safety net and regulatory structures. The Republican Party, when it expelled all the Rockefeller Republicans took the wrong side of history and turned itself into a party of radical extremists.

  • Fireslayer (unverified)

    Here here, Bill & Gregor!

    Palin and the continued disillusionment of the thinking minority in the Republicans dwindling ranks dooms them.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    I have some trouble with Paul Gronke's claim to credibility as a political observer. He's the one who was saying during the primary that Obama couldn't win in the swing states of Ohio, PA, and FL. He conflates the social conservatism of Americans in their self-reporting with their actual positions on economic policy.

    The real danger in the moment of crisis, and we are in one, the worst since the Great Depression, is not that the Obama administration will over-reach, but that it will do too little, and not be bold enough in providing economic security to Americans, and that includes and starts with health care. Economic insecurity makes populist progressives of us all. As I've heard it stated in some quarters just this week, there are only Keynesians in economic foxholes. The New Deal did not convert social conservatives but it sure turned a lot of Americans into economic progressives. The conservative rural and farming people did not complain about the rural electrification programs of the New Deal. The unemployed rural and urban working class did not complain about the WPA public works projects. What we're in now is not the early 90s, it is more comparable to the 1930s. We have an entire auto industry that is about to go under. Major sectors of our economy are collapsing.

    Anyone who thinks an Obama administration is going to fail by doing too much is not in touch with reality. The Obama administration needs to be worried about not doing enough to provide economic security for Americans, not too little. Anyone who now questions whether government matters is relegated to the dustbin of history. By the time this is over the government is going to be owning or at least partnering in major portions of economic activity in this country. It has already started with Paulson's buy-out.

  • Jim Oleske (unverified)

    Prof. Gronke,

    You write of my position:

    You claim, for instance, that the maintenance of a one program from the New Deal (Social Security) supports a claim that the Bush Administration was a "New Deal" period. You can't really believe that.

    That would, indeed, be quite a remarkable claim. But you won't find it anywhere in my earlier comment.

    Instead, what you will find is a response to your claim about the "programs" of the New Deal, and how they were allegedly an exception "of the 30s." I pointed out, quite unremarkably I thought, that core New Deal programs have actually survived for eight decades. As Paul Krugman wrote earlier this week, citing both FDIC insurance and Social Security:

    [T]he institutions F.D.R. built have proved both durable and essential. Indeed, those institutions remain the bedrock of our nation’s economic stability.

    Of course, the fact that New Deal programs survived several conservative periods (Reagan and Bush II being the most notable) does not convert those conservative periods into "New Deal periods," and I did not claim as much.

    Quite the opposite, I said very clearly that Republicans have done "much to undo New Deal-era protections" and I explicitly compared "the deregulation of the modern Republican era" to the conservative deregulation that preceded the New Deal era.

    My point -- which you decline to address -- is that conservative victories over the New Deal should not necessarily be taken as an indication we are a center-right country given that:

    1. Many of those victories were accomplished "under the public's radar, as with the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the passage of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act" and were "the result of corporate lobbying, not public sentiment"; and

    2. When conservatives did try to take on the New Deal in the public eye with their assault on Social Security, they failed miserably.

    With regard to your response about the Eisenhower era, I'm not sure I understand why the country's racial divisions or Cold War challenges in the 1950s are reasons to ignore the import of Ike's decision to solidify and build upon the New Deal (massive public works; expansion of Social Security; maintenance of progressive taxation). Sure, we faced serious challenges in the era -- as we do in many eras -- but that hardly seems a reason to ignore the economic policies of the era in reaching conclusions about whether we are a "center-right" or "center-left" country (or something else).

    Finally, you write:

    Of leading political and social institutions, the survey records shows Congress and the executive branch routinely in last place (and they have been there for decades), well below business, science, corporations. But you know who ranks just as low as Congress--"labor unions".

    Other than your assertion about Congress's current rank, nothing else in this paragraph squares with the actual evidence I've seen. Most notably, organized labor does not "rank just as low as Congress" and "well below" corporations.

    In the current Gallup survey, "organized labor" is ranked slightly ahead of "big business," as it has been in the majority of Gallup surveys conducted since 1973.

    As for the executive branch, it currently ranks in the lower-middle of the list, and it has ranged over time from the upper-middle of the list to the lower-middle of the list. It has never been close to being "in last place," as you assert.

    With regard to Congress, though it is currently at a low-water mark of 12% confidence, it topped 40% in both the 1980s and 1970s, and ranked ahead of big business.

    Returning to the labor/business dichotomy -- which is probably the most relevant to the center-left/center-right discussion -- Gallup's head-to-head surveys have consistently given labor the edge.

    Here's the headline of the Gallup survey in 2005 (the high-water mark of the modern Republican era):

    Public Remains Positive About Labor Unions
    More Americans side with unions than companies

    Gallup has since reported similar results in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

  • Scott J (unverified)

    By the way, Phil Z, you are completely nutz. This is not a communist country.

    I think you'll all be quite dissapointed that obama will move away from the socialist left and more towards the center in how he governs. His Chief of Staff was hired to put the out of touch Dems such as Waxman back into his corner.

    As for this crisis...

    Anyone that actually studies the housing crisis understands that we had too many homes built, too poor of credit lending standards employed, too many people buying what they couldn't pay for, and Gov't sponsored agencies Fannie and Freddie purchasing garbage mortgage paper to keep the machine greased. Don't take my word, do a little research.

    This is not a counry lurching to the left. It is a country that was fed up with Republicans acting like free spending liberals.

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    Beyond the New Deal--or I should say before it--there was a strong tradition of progressivism/populism, particularly in the Northwest and Great Lakes. Multiple times around the turn of the century, states like MI, MN and WI gave their electoral votes to the progressive candidate.

    And during that time, we got such lasting principles of society such as the 40 hour work day, restrictions on child labor and other more general worker protections, centralized banking, women's suffrage...by the time this nation had become a world power in the 20th century, we had developed a strong progressive tradition. It's the conservative swings of the 50s, 80s and 2000s that look like blips.

  • RuthAlice (unverified)

    IT seems to me that those who have lost at the ballot box are now trying to win on the soap box. Over and over I read conservatives insisting that we should ignore our lying eyes and interpret the election through their received wisdom. It would be frustrating and dispiriting to the people who voted if the losers in the election still carry the day in policy through the cowardice of the victors.

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    TJ, the same period of time also say nativist movements, anti immigrant movements, and prohibition. At the same time that there was farm populism in the upper Great Lakes there was a resurgence of Jim Crow in the South.

    And for all the anti-party, anti-corporate spirit of the age, in many ways it was classic, Jeffersonian individualism rearing its head again, which is very, very different from big government, big program liberalism that we associate with European social democracies.

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    Jim that is a good link. There is another series at sda.berkeley.edu that asks about "business leaders" not big business.
    However, showing that labor is the fifth least like institution isn't showing a lot of sentiment in favor of unions.

  • paul g. (unverified)

    Last quick comment, Jim: much of the "core" of the New Deal ended about 1938, You now add to Social Security FDIC. Ok. But is FDIC-banking insurance--the sort of new major liberal / progressive programs that people are thinking of?

    Sorry if I am misreading, but i thought what is being proposed are massive new public works programs.

    The deal with Ike is this: there was a compromise on social spending in order to hold together the anti-communist coalition. The 50s were really a holding pattern.

    Bill R. writes: I have some trouble with Paul Gronke's claim to credibility as a political observer. He's the one who was saying during the primary that Obama couldn't win in the swing states of Ohio, PA, and FL. He conflates the social conservatism of Americans in their self-reporting with their actual positions on economic policy.

    Classic non sequitir. Put aside for a moment that OH, PA, and Fl were the major battleground states and I was voicing concern with virtually every other political observer--including Obama's own campaign!--about those two states.

    Bill, WPA was essentially over in a few years. If you think there really wasn't much public controversy over many fo the New Deal programs, you need to read a little history of the New Deal. If you think the working class in this country is not suspicious of government, read Bob Lane's classic "Political Ideology."

    And the approving citations of Krugman seem to forget this note: Krugman says we are NOTHING like the 1930s, Bill. Nothing. We do NOT have 25% unemployment. The stock market has NOT lost anywhere near the value it lost during those years. We do NOT have bank runs. etc etc.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    @ Paul

    The New Deal is not over, and it's impact on the role of government has been the battleground of politics ever since. The debate in the coming months of the Obama administration will be precisely about the role of government in the building of public infrastructure,in providing an economic and health safety net, the creation of jobs, and in the management of economic enterprise.

    RE:Economic Collapse- You are sadly mistaken if you think this is the extent of our economic disaster. The WaPO economic reporter asserted on Charlie Rose said, I believe accurately, that we are nearing the end of meltdown of the financial markets, but we are only at the beginning of the meltdown of the real economy. By the end of the month we will be at 8% unemployment and by inauguration day we will have unemployment at double digits.

    Paul, I think you have a reference point of the 1990s and the decrepit DLC political theories that floated around then. I invite you to join the reality based community.

  • roland c (unverified)

    I have to disagree that the U.S. is fundamentally conservative. Or perhaps, I will agree with some major caveats. While America certainly has a conservative/libertarian bent, at the end of the day, I believe that the population has broadly liberal aspirations and a pragmatist, anti-ideological, results-oriented attitude towards governing and government generally.

    The United States, founded though it was by the white, male, and landed colonial aristrocracy, was based on very radical notions of equality and liberty that have always resonated with the populace.

    I think that in the current environment, it is important to remember that liberty can be either positive or negative in that you can either have "positive liberty" where you are in a position to be able to make a decision to do something, or you can have the "negative liberty" of not forced to do something by the government.

    Right now, people's positive liberty is being severely impinged upon by the horrible economy and their living standards are being eroded by the marketplace. I would argue that peoples' positive liberty is more their concern right now than an overactive government. Polling seems to support that view, too. In recession, people tend to want more activist government.

    I would also just point out an insight that was made a long time ago that while philosophically or rhetorically Americans tend to gravitate to conservative/libertarian arguments of limited government, when it comes to how government actually runs on a program-by-program basis, people tend to think that government has more responsibility to protect the general welfare than conservatives would admit they do.

    This is the whole "ideologically conservative, operationally liberal" argument.

    I'd argue that this is why conservatives have been able to deliver on tax cuts regularly, but rarely on cuts to government programs and spending. People like government programs and the benefits they bring. They don't like taxes, however, and they have been able to have the best of both worlds during the Reagan era. But that era is over now.

    People want government to be effective and protect them from threats out of their control (including the market). And now the polls are showing that a majority of people is personally willing to endure higher taxes to pay for government-guaranteed health insurance, and people are more likely to say that they want increased government expenditure for a host of programs, rather than a tax cut for themselves, and now even prefer Democrats on tax issues over Republicans, something I didn't think I would see for a long, long time.

    At the end of the day, I think that this is a pragmatist nation, which is why the whole "Obama is socialist" thing didn't stick for the general populace. People don't care what the solution is called so long as it works - for the most part.

    I personally think this is a time to go big and have massive government investment in areas that have been neglected for far too long - transportation, education, energy, healthcare, and the like.

    I think that if this investment is done competently and successfully, people will accept the programs because they will like the results. We should try for decentralized programs wherever possible and make sure that the bureaucracy entailed in new programs is as limited and user-friendly as possible, of course. The political and operational pitfalls of government programs in the Great society and New Deal do not need to be repeated, and should not be.

    And if progressives can competently run government in a way that has tangible benefits for average people, I believe that the electorate will be less anti-government than they have been under these past 8 years of incompetenece.

  • roland c (unverified)

    Here is a pretty good article by Christopher Ellis of UNC Chapel Hill, outlining how voters who describe themselves as conservative often aren't actually as conservative as they say they are when you get past the rhetoric and take a closer look at where they stand on the issues.

    "Conflicted Conservatives: The Politics of Ideological Contradiction in the United States"


  • Jim Oleske (unverified)

    Prof. Gronke,

    The point of my argument wasn't to show "a lot sentiment in favor of labor unions" (though Gallup surveys this decade have consistently shown unions with approval ratings of 58-65%).

    Nor was the point of my argument to show that FDIC was one of the most liberal pieces of the New Deal.

    The point of my argument was to challenge your acceptance of the "we are a conservative nation" frame being pushed by Republicans.

    In accepting this frame, you argued that the New Deal programs were exceptions "of the 30s," and you have since argued that labor unions are much less popular than corporations, and that the executive branch (arguably the greatest symbol of centralized power in America) ranks "in last place" among institutions.

    As demonstrated above, all three of those assertions are inconsistent with the available evidence.

    Sure, if you exclude the 1930s and 1960s as "exceptions," and exclude the economic policies of the 1950s because of the Cold War, you can strengthen your argument in favor of the "conservative nation" theory. And, to be consistent, if you exclude the 1940s and the 1970s because of the unique demands of WWII and Vietnam, you can certainly make the conservative periods of the Reagan and Bush years loom quite large. But excluding 50 of the past 80 years (or even 30 of the past 80 years) to draw generalizations about the country doesn't strike me as terribly persuasive.

  • (Show?)

    I can't say that I find discussions of political labeling very enlightening - and most anyone can find ways to back up their positions using public opinion research. In any event, polls should never guide policy and vision; they're great tactical tools for shaping campaigns, and that's it. Our policy objectives need to be guided fundamentally by our values, and our strategies by clear assessments of what we can achieve based on the forces we can mobilize versus what our expected opposition can mobilize. I think it's pretty damned clear that the Obama campaign had an exceptional read of what the political moment was and how to assemble the elements it needed to win - despite starting out with a candidate whose profile no one would ever have said matched what "Americans" would have said they wanted in a candidate a couple of years ago. As Meteor Blades observed, just two years ago SurveyUSA matched up potential Presidential candidates, and pitting Obama against McCain had McCain winning 530 electoral votes to Obama's 28.

    My point is that real political leadership - a quality that Obama has now displayed - is capable of changing prevailing prejudices, attitudes and allegiances, much as his campaign literally changed the electorate and the electoral map. It really can be a "Si Se Puede" moment.

  • The Libertarian Guy (unverified)

    Just for thge record most Libertarian that I know and I know a bunch do not consider themselves conservatives and never have.


  • (Show?)

    Jim O., I honestly don't think I am the one pushing this frame and I don't think it is the GOP pushing this frame.

    By any reasonable international measure, we are a religious nation, we are a highly individualistic nation, we are an anti-government nation, and we are a conservative nation.

    That is the conclusion of virtually every political historian with whom I am familiar. I am always ready and willing to hear alternative viewpoints, but I haven't heard them yet on this thread.

    It might be that I am using a different lens than other people are using, but the sort of "pragmatic results-oriented" description that Roland provides is precisely the sort of argument I have been trying to make.

    It fundamentally contrasts this nation from the social democracies of Europe.

  • Blue Auragon (unverified)

    That's the perception HERE. In the rest of the world American Government is synonymous with corruption. And how many former lobbyists, and lobbying for whom, are on the Obama transition team?

  • Joe Hill (unverified)

    As the banks, trading companies, insurance companies, all much the same now since the repeal of Glass-Steagall, collapse all about us,

    and as even Henry Paulson, the late high priest of Goldman Sachs (you can't make these names up) casts about for something, anything to Make It Not Have Happened,

    here on the liberal Democratic discussion site there is a lively discussion over whether this is still a center-right country in light of the recent election.


    We are way, way past center-right to center-left.

    How tragic that the Democratic party is now almost as completely owned by corporate America as the Tweedledum party who just got royally thrashed.

    In mid-September, when the Bush administration was forced to beg for infinite cash to make the machine still work, the Democrats should have demanded: single payer health care a serious commitment to public transportation all over the country free K-college education a slashing of the ruinous "defense" budget

    . . . all these things should have been demanded at a MINIMUM as the price of admission just to talk.

    Then Democrats should have taken out billboards, radio and television ads, and carpet-bombed the web with this message: anyone who still believed in the mythology of the invisible hand should be relegated to the same margins of society reserved for Sarah Palin's dinosaurs with saddles crowd.

    Hell, they didn't do it then, they should do it now. But . . . well, see the part above about being pretty much a wholly owned subsidiary of the present situation.

    The entire world knows that the neoliberal market fetishism is a foolish reductive superstition.

    The entire planet knows that it has brought us to the brink of a terrible end.

    How ironic - a tragedy worthy of Sophocles! - that the one party that now has the outside chance to strike these ideological chains from our hands and feet will consent only to perhaps discuss loosening them. A little. Maybe. Soon.

  • LT (unverified)

    Left and Right are terms which seem to mean more to people above a certain age.

    My guess is that someone doing a survey at an Obama rally asking if people considered themselves liberal, moderate, or conservative wouldn't have gotten a lot of answers. Those are alien terms to many people, esp. younger people.

    I like the distinction between problem solvers and ideologues.

  • HomoMormon (unverified)

    The liberals in California forgot to vote against M8.

    Now the gays are mad... spittin mad, and not gonna take it anymore.

    But instead of venting against the 70% of the Black Obama voters who also voted for M(H)8, they are venting against the Mormons.

    Intolerance is not very tolerant,especailly when you claim to be a minority class who is discriminated against.

    Gays should not be bigoted against any religion.


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