Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The "Right-Center Nation" Myth...Again

President-elect Obama hasn’t even picked out an inauguration tie yet, but that hasn’t stopped a compliant corporate news media from divining the cramped contours of their perception of his mandate.

Beware reporters who swallow without a scintilla of journalistic skepticism the tired old myth that no matter what we as a national electorate just said, loud and clear, ours is a “right-center” nation.

Kept alive for the past eight years by mainstream media desperate to deflect the right's accusations of "liberal bias," the old “conservative nation” canard is as tired as can be. Check out the Pew Center's extensive national survey, released well before the general election even began. Roughly 70 percent of respondents told Pew that they believe that the government has a responsibility “to take care of people who can't take care of themselves.” As sad as it is to categorize taking care of people who can’t take care of themselves as a leftist position – read the New Testament, anyone? – it is still a startling number.

Two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) -- including most of those who say they would prefer a smaller government (57 percent) -- support government-funded health insurance for all citizens. Most also regard the nation's corporations as too powerful, while nearly two-thirds (65 percent) say corporate profits are too high -- about the same number who say “labor unions are necessary to protect the working person” (68 percent).

Cries of “Drill Baby, Drill!” fade as one examines the Pew data, which finds that 69 percent agree "we should put more emphasis on fuel conservation than on developing new oil supplies" while a whopping 83 percent of Americans back stricter environmental laws and regulations. Despite the sheer volume of the anti-progressive crowd, it’s also worth noting that 60 percent say they would "be willing to pay higher prices in order to protect the environment."

So in the wake of this historic election, surely the old myth is dying hard, eh? Not so fast.

Check out this Associated Press story about the House battle to head the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which would play a critical role in any global warming legislation:
“Obama has said he wants to act quickly on climate change. But crucial bipartisan support could be tested if liberal California Rep. Henry Waxman succeeds at unseating Chairman John Dingell of Michigan, the panel's top Democrat for 28 years and a key ally of automakers and electric utilities.”
Let me get this straight: if the scary Waxman, who actually supports the strong global warming legislation Obama called for during the campaign, is named chair, then that would put the legislation at risk.
But if Dingell, who has made a living slowing down global warming legislation on behalf of the bankrupt auto industry, is unseated, then there goes the "crucial bipartisan support."
I read that as a simple formula: let Dingell remain an obstacle to global warming legislation or you’re not governing from the center, President-elect Obama.

Hey – it’s not just a Republican thing either. “The country must be governed from the middle,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday. Repeating themes from election night, she said she plans to emphasize “civility” and “fiscal responsibility.”

The news media is happy to prop up this mythology as well, evidence to the contrary by damned. Newsweek’s Jon Meacham couldn’t even wait for the election: in an Oct. 18 essay that managed to both elect Obama and limit his mandate before a vote had been tallied, Meacham was ready, cliché in hand:

“Should Obama win, he will have to govern a nation that is more instinctively conservative than it is liberal—a perennial reality that past Democratic presidents have ignored at their peril.”

The progressive website Huffington Post has taken the fun to a whole new level: “Right-Center Nation Watch.”

It’s a heck of a lot of fun watching the punditry whistle gamely past the accumulated evidence. How about this gem:

Joe Scarborough on MSNBC, Oct. 29: “The country is not center left. It is center right. This country is more conservative than it was when we took over in 1994 after two years of calamitous Democratic rule. It is a center-right country.”

Nicely summarized, and correct so long as one ignores literally all of the data from the 2008 election and bases modern conclusions on the politics and more importantly, the demographics of yesteryear.

Sifting all of those dizzying numbers, one fairly well leaps off the page: nationwide, white Republican voters (the state of the GOP “base,” who went for McCain 91-8) represented 29 percent of all voters. That’s right: 29 percent. It’s hard to fashion a “center-right nation” from a distinct minority, but if it’s repeated often enough and swallowed wholesale by a compliant press, it might just work anyway.


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