I agree with the analysis in this piece by Robert Lindsay if we stick to defining the Left as “advocating state intervention in the economy on behalf of objectives sought by reform liberals, progressives, and socialists.” Over the past thirty years, US economic policy has mostly been about dismantling the New Deal/Vital Center compact in favor of neoliberalism, and the resulting growth of class divisions and poverty. I would agree that the Democratic Party is a center-right neoliberal party on economic questions.
But if we define “conservatism” in the popular American sense of “limited government,” then government has continued to grow even in the face of neoliberal hegemony, although I would attribute this to the perpetual expansion of the military-industrial complex, bureaucratic profligacy, and fiscal hemorrhaging generally rather than “socialism” (as “conservatives” claim).
Also, I’d really have to disagree that the reactionary-populist, “movement conservative” Republican “base” represents either the mainstream society or the political establishment. It’s true that this sector of the Right has gotten more militant and adopted ever more shrill rhetoric over the years, but this is largely due to its desperation driven by its ongoing marginalization and dwindling numbers. It represents a perspective that was arguably mainstream forty years ago, and now seems extremist only because the wider society has moved so far leftward (in a cultural sense) in the meantime. For instance, same-sex marriage would have been considered a fringe issue only a decade ago, but it’s now well on its way to becoming normalized.
What we have is a situation where U.S. politics has moved towards ever greater corporatism, militarism, and statism for decades, even as the culture itself has made a dramatic leftward shift. Much of the responsibility for this can be laid at the feet of the Left who somewhere along the line decided that class-based, anti-imperialist, or civil libertarian politics was no longer worth the bother or at least needed to take a backseat to cultural extremism to the point that transexuality is rapidly becoming the Left’s flagship issue.
Ok, just another insight upon how non US people find US politics so obscure. There are the Democrats, who obviously want to instigate a democracy, hmm, that doesn’t equate they have one of those already. Oh well, then there are the Republicans, who obviously want to get rid of the Monarchy, hmm, that doesn’t work either. Ok, so is it obvious to anyone outside of the US which party is the one left of center and which is to the right of center. Well no not really.
There are the predictable arguments about specific issues which arise, and who has made the most mistakes on budget spending, but specifically what differentiates one lot from the other. Which are to the left, and which to he right? The vast majority of those outside of the US are baffled by it. What does not help the image on an international basis, is the game show host type presentation of political speeches when on election campaigns, complete with trumpet music and the like. All very, very obscure to non US people.
Well of course as a general rule, the Democrats are more to the Left and obviously the Republicans are way to the Right. That’s pretty much noncontroversial. However, the Democrats are not a very leftwing party! On a worldwide scale, probably both parties would be on the Right, and the population in general is probably one of the most rightwing populations on Earth. In fact, when people talk about what makes America so great, they usually rattle off a list of a bunch of rightwing attributes. The super patriotards are almost always rightwingers, and the America that they love is a very rightwing country. To them, that’s the real America.
There really is no large leftwing party in the US. There are the Greens, but they do not get any votes.
The base of the Democratic Party is called the left wing of the Democratic Party. These are Democratic Party liberals. This is probably one of the most leftwing groups in the US. However, even here, on a worldwide scale, they are not all that leftwing. For instance, most of these folks would not call themselves European style socialists or social democrats. The problem is that the Democrats elected to office are usually to the right of the base, because if you run on the base’s agenda, it’s often thought that you are going to lose because the base of the party is too leftwing for America as a whole.
Democrats like Obama are either in the center of the party or on the rightwing of the party. The rightwing of the party is called the DNC Democrats, or Democratic National Committee Democrats. They took over in 1990 and decided that the party is just too liberal to keep winning elections and that if the party wanted to keep on winning elections, it would have to move to the right. They also decided that it costs a lot of money to run for office these days, and the only way to get that money is to suck up to the rich and the corporations to get the money.
So the party started becoming pro-upper class and pro-corporate and moving away from supporting working class people and unions. There was also this idea that the party was “too hostile to business,” which has never been true as the party has never been anything close to even a European style socialist party. And I doubt if Democrats lose elections because they are “too anti-business.” Corporations have among the lowest favorable ratings in the US at ~22%, lower than the media or government. Nobody likes them.
The two wings of the party pretty much hate each other’s guts. The base thinks the DNC Obama Democrats are nothing but a bunch of Republicans in Democratic clothing. Any real leftwing people keep peeling off the Democratic Base to leave the party, vote Third Party or maybe quit voting. For the last 25 years, lefties have been continually leaving the party every year. This has accelerated in recent years since Obama came in. The problem is that in the US voting 3rd party is crazy because all you are doing is voting for the other side or at best throwing your vote away. Unlike in Europe, no 3rd party candidate can ever win national election.
The DNC wing is governing now under Obama. These people actually hate the base of the party as they feel that if they cater to them, they are going to lose elections. So the DNC types play to the base in elections to get their votes, and then give them the finger once they are in office. Obama and his advisors refer to the Base as “those fucking hippies,” the professional Left” and other epithets.
DNC Dems govern by now and then doing something leftwing for their base and then sticking it to the base by doing something rightwing. So the project is Feed the Base -> Feed the Right, Feed the Base -> Feed the Right, Feed the Base -> Feed the Right. This nonsense is also called triangulating. It’s a crazy way to govern, but that is how they do it. When DNC Dems are feeding the Right, they look much like Republicans. Of course the base hates this governing style because the party is pushing rightwing stuff half the time.
Anyway, this was the DNC thinking: if we don’t move to the right and fast, we are going to become a dinosaur party. So for the last 25 years, the party has been moving further to the right. The Republican Party has been doing the same thing. Ronald Reagan seems like a liberal Democrat nowadays.
Every year, the Republicans move further to the right, they move the goalposts and shift the Overton Window to the Right, and call the Democrats socialists and Communists. The Democrats are stung by being called Commies, so they follow by chasing the Republicans to the right to try not to be called Commies. Then they steal some of their rightwing ideas, water them down and pass them.
Welfare reform was a Republican idea passed by Democrats. Obamacare was a hard right health care proposal from the Heritage Foundation and the Republican National Committee in 1992. Now either the Republican Party has moved so far to the right that 1992 Republicans seem like socialists or else the Republicans hate it because the Democrats are pushing it. The Republican agenda is simply to oppose everything that the Democrats promote. So the Democrats steal a Republican idea, water it down and try to pass it, and the Republican go apoplectic and scream, “They are stealing out ideas!” and call the Democrats Communists.
The Republican Base is extremely rightwing, almost fanatically so. It is probably one of the most reactionary movements on Earth in many ways. The Tea Party is the Republican Base. The Base is very White and very much openly racist. The Republicans appeal to them with coded racist “dog whistle” stuff which is more or less a rhetoric of “stick it to the niggers” or “fuck the niggers.”
A vast number of Whites vote Republican because it’s seen as the party of the Whites, and the Democratic Party is seen as “the party of the niggers and the Mexicans,” as a friend of mine bluntly put it once. Nevertheless, the Republican Party doesn’t really benefit Whites in any way, so it’s irrational to vote Republican because it’s the White party, but that’s what people do. Once Republicans get in power, they don’t do anything for average White people except screw them over as the Republican Party is a Tory like party of the very rich and the corporations that thinks everyone else can basically go the Hell.
Recently there has been a mass rebellion as the Republican Base has flipped out and turned on the RNC group as RINO’s (Republicans in Name Only). They have tried to throw out a lot of RNC Republicans, saying they are nothing more than Democrats. Of course that is stupid, but that is how these people think.
The Republican Base represents about 20% of the population. Their politics is bizarre, irrational, fevered, conspiratorial, aristocratic, anti-democratic, anti-government, anti-liberal, militaristic, anti-environment, anti-woman, anti-gay, fundamentalist Christian, pro-traditional values, racist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, anti-social spending, anti-regulation, atomistic, radical individualist, economically Libertarian and fanatically partisan. They actually celebrate inequality as some sort of a virtue!
The RNC Republicans are not as rightwing as their base, but they do play to them, and the differences are not great. Whereas the DNC Democrats hate their base, the RNC Republicans fear their base. They are terrified of being replaced by the Base, so the RNC types are always trying to cater to the Base’s positions without having to actually vote for them. The end result of all of this is a race to see how far rightwing you can go without falling off the cliff.