In August 2011, I wrote a blog post refuting Jon Huntsman’s argument that America is a “center-right country.” In fact, on issue after issue – abortion, energy, environment, food safety, guns, health policy, GLBT equality, taxes/deficit, corporate power, etc. – Americans when asked respond in ways that sure as heck don’t sound “center-right.” In fact, Americans want to keep their government retirement programs (Social Security, Medicare, etc.), want women to have the right to choose, want GLBT equality, want clean energy, want a healthy environment, want more controls on guns rather than fewer, want limits on the power of Wall Street and corporate power, on and on. In sum, based on their responses to polling questions, Americans are not only NOT center-right, they actually are quite progressive, even if they don’t call themselves by that label (possibly because it’s been absurdly, relentlessly demonized by the right).
Now, after the not-as-close-as-you-think reelection of Barack Obama – a cautious, centrist politician but with progressive instincts, just like the American people more broadly – in addition to Democratic successes in the House and Senate, not to mention passage of state initiatives in favor of gay marriage and marijuana legalization, it’s even harder than ever to argue that this is a “center-right nation.” In fact, as Vivian Paige correctly points out, that’s nothing more than a myth. So why do Republicans maintain (narrow) control of the House of Representatives? The major reaons: partisan gerrymandering.
No offense to the losers in the House races, but the odds were stacked against you. The lines drawn make it almost impossible for a candidate of the opposite party to win. The most egregious example of this has to be the 3rd district, where the challenger received less than 19% of the vote. The closest contest was in the 2nd district, where the challenger lost by only 8%. The largest number of votes cast occurred in the 7th district, where a highly touted – and nationally recognized – Democratic candidate still managed to lose by 17 points.
Partisan redistricting results in fewer competitive races and fewer votes cast; the proof is in the numbers. Ours is not a center-right country nor is Virginia a center-right state. Our country and our state are center – period. No left or right.
And it’s high time that our elections reflect that.
Of course, these labels themselves are a bit misleading, as the political “center” shifts over time. Today, for instance, the Republican Party has moved far, FAR to the right, almost off the John Bircher cliff, while Democrats are mostly in the traditional “center,” with no serious Progressive Party (Teddy Roosevelt style or otherwise) in existence. Thus, the U.S. political spectrum is more skewed to the right than it’s almost ever been in our history. It’s also far to the right of almost any other advanced, industrialized, Western nation. To put it another way: what’s “center” in America today would be “right wing” in the UK, Canada, Australia, etc. Yet, as we mentioned above, the American people on issue after issue give answers that can only be described as “progressive.” It’s a bizarre situation, and hopefully one that’s not tenable. Unfortunately, with both Republicans and Democrats having a common interest in keeping their incumbents as safe as possible (we see it here in Virginia, where despite a 51%-53% victory for Kaine and Obama, Republicans hold an 8-3 edge in the state’s Congressional delegation), this situation’s not likely to change anytime soon. Unless, of course, the people demand it loudly, clearly, and forcefully.