Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Political Pundits Have It All Wrong: Americans Do NOT Shift Left or Right

After every presidential election, and after every contentious legislative debate, political pundits can be heard declaring that “Americans are becoming more liberal,” or “becoming more conservative,” as if our way of thinking about the world is so fungible that it changes like the weather. This idea of a shifting electorate seems to be accepted as fact, and quite frankly it is an insult to the thoughtfulness of the American people.

Today the thinking is that we have become more liberal as a nation, this being based on election results, polling, and the language of legislation. I am here to argue that this is a lie, and that the whole notion of a shifting electorate is a falsehood that demonstrates an incredible lack of understanding about the political philosophy of the majority of American people.
The American people, since our birth as a nation, are pragmatists, and pragmatism can rightly be said to be the political philosophy of our citizenry. Pragmatism is as much a political philosophy as conservatism, progressivism, or liberalism (in the modern sense). As pragmatists, Americans in the “center” will support whichever political party produces a policy solution that they believe will best address the issues being debated. By the same token, Americans will support whichever party has “proven” that their priorities (ie. Job growth, austerity) seem the more practical one to pursue. Rather than the center moving left or right, the left or right moves to the center.

The problem for Republicans, and this is a problem they have failed to address, is that they have move so far from the center that their “answers” never make it back there. Conversely, the Democrats have shifted so close to the center that they practically live there, and this has been the case since the emergence of the Democratic Leadership Council during the Clinton era. During the Bush years Republicans also lived near the center; it wasn’t until the emergence of the Tea Party that the Republican Party has shifted so far from the center that few if any of their positions are seen as pragmatic solutions to address our nation’s needs.
Independent and moderate American voters do not suddenly “think differently.” The parties “come to them,” and they determine which ideas seem more pragmatic. Americans are problem solvers, and they don’t care where the solutions come from. The Republican Party is disconnected from the center; they have purged their party of those members who “lived” near the center. Their belief that it isn’t their policies but their failure to communicate their policies is a fatal flaw in their thinking. The American people will NEVER become more conservative any more than they will ever become more liberal. The pragmatic center isn’t going anywhere; with few exceptions it never has.

If the Republican Party is to regain relevance on the national stage, it must “open its tent” to people that may share their values but don’t necessarily share their solutions or their belief in what issues are most important for a pragmatic nation to confront. Unfortunately, I have little faith they will do the right thing, and so refugees from the Party, people like me, will remain on the outside looking in.

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