There’s been a lot of talk this month about whether or not we are now a left-of-center nation or still leaning right. I tend to think that’s all malarkey, because in the end we are a center nation that moves one way or the other depending on the situation at hand. The center changes with the times.
Matt Yglesias sums up my point of view pretty well:
nobody should underestimate the possibility for rapid change. If the economy is doing well in 2012, people are going to say to themselves “man, things sure were screwed up before Barack Obama showed up and fixed everything” and he’ll win in a landslide. But if the situation remains grim, then people will think “man, life sure has sucked under Barack Obama” and they’ll show him the door. And of course, wild swings are possible. Ronald Reagan swept into power in 1980 amidst serious economic problems. By 1982, things were worse than ever and the GOP suffered big electoral reverses. But by 1984, the were back on the upswing, it was “Morning in America” and he got re-elected by a huge margin.
This is predicated on political ideology being dependent largely on economic factors. Which is perhaps the best way to look at the situation, when you consider that economics probably played as large a role as any in the recent election. But a lot of conservatives like to say that we live in a center-right country because of our social values, which is separate entirely from the economic argument.
I would say this, though, about social values — the center is constantly changing. Actually, Arnold Schwarzenegger said it pretty succintly on This Week yesterday (I’m paraphrasing): it’s ridiculous for anyone, particularly Republicans, to say that one thing or another is a bonafide Republican value. Teddy Roosevelt, after all helped create the progressive tax system we have today and called for universal healthcare.
And so — values are mutable, and tend to progress as we do. While interracial marriage was not a center issue fifty years ago, it certainly is today. And we can hope that in another fifty, gay marriage will have the same distinction. The same goes for universal healthcare, or whatever you’d like to cherry pick. Times change and with those times changes the center.