Monday, March 18, 2013

The U.S. is Not a Center-Right Nation

In the last few weeks we’ve heard reports in the media about budget proposals emerging from Congress. There’s the House Republican plan and the Senate Democratic plan. You’d be forgiven for thinking that’s it, because for some reason almost no one discusses the third congressional budget, that of the House Progressive Caucus. I only know because I regularly read Paul Krugman, who wrote a column about it last week.
Business Insider, a business-oriented website, commissioned a poll in February asking people to compare three different approaches to averting the sequester. These were basically versions of the three congressional budgets. The winner was the Progressive Caucus’s budget:
Surveys have found that asking people about just titles of plans or telling people who proposed policy changes the results, so the point of this poll was to see what people thought of the plans when they were fully explained, but also stripped of partisan labels…Surprisingly, the plan that polled the strongest was the House Progressive Caucus plan. More than half of respondents supported it compared to sequestration and just a fifth of respondents were opposed… Shockingly, 47 percent of Republicans preferred the House Progressive plan to the sequester. This means that Republicans supported the House Progressive plan just as much as they supported their own party's plan.
A “truism” about America is that we’re a center-right nation. That might have been true in the past (although I doubt it), but I think it is definitely not accurate now. Polls regularly show that Americans support socialist government programs—as long as you don’t use the word “socialist.” (Notice the beginning of the Business Insider quote: telling people who sponsored a plan biases their opinion.)

Another news story last week reported that the number of Americans owning guns is dropping. This decrease in gun ownership is happening across all regions of the country, in cities and rural areas. “The household gun ownership rate has fallen from an average of 50 percent in the 1970s to 49 percent in the 1980s, 43 percent in the 1990s and 35 percent in the 2000s, according to the survey data, analyzed by The New York Times.”

The number of guns in private hands may be at an all-time high, but that just means that these guns are being concentrated in the hands of a shrinking minority of the population. I think this is a progressive development, because not owning a gun means giving up the ability to personally enact vigilante justice and instead depending on the state for protection.

National attitudes about gay marriage and race are all moving to the more liberal side of the spectrum. The victory of President Obama in 2012 was famously a shock to the right-wing—supposedly Mitt Romney didn’t have a concession speech ready on election night because he was so sure he was going to win.
This progressive shift is rewriting the story of America, but that story isn’t being widely told—yet.
Mr. Krugman says this about the Progressive Caucus’s budget:
I’ve seen some people describe the caucus proposal as a “Ryan plan of the left,” but that’s unfair. There are no Ryan-style magic asterisks, trillion-dollar savings that are assumed to come from unspecified sources; this is an honest proposal. And “Back to Work” rests on solid macroeconomic analysis, not the fantasy “expansionary austerity” economics — the claim that slashing spending in a depressed economy somehow promotes job growth rather than deepening the depression — that Mr. Ryan continues to espouse despite the doctrine’s total failure in Europe. 
No, the only thing the progressive caucus and Mr. Ryan share is audacity. And it’s refreshing to see someone break with the usual Washington notion that political “courage” means proposing that we hurt the poor while sparing the rich. No doubt the caucus plan is too audacious to have any chance of becoming law; but the same can be said of the Ryan plan. 
So where is this all going? Realistically, we aren’t likely to get a Grand Bargain any time soon. Nonetheless, my sense is that there is some real movement here, and it’s in a direction conservatives won’t like. 
As I said, Mr. Ryan’s efforts are finally starting to get the derision they deserve, while progressives seem, at long last, to be finding their voice. Little by little, Washington’s fog of fiscal flimflam seems to be lifting.

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