American People Keep Going Further Left

About a decade ago, I wrote a long piece analyzing all the polling data I could find across decades. It was obvious that the vast majority of Americans not only were quite far left but had been so for a long time and were going even further left over time. It wasn’t a new phenomenon. The leftward trend can be followed back into last century.

This shouldn’t be surprising when one looks at the politics of the early to mid-20th century. The politics were even more radical in my grandparents’ early life and it remained that way into my parents’ childhood. There was massive labor organizing with pitched battles. Communists were found everywhere, especially among the working class and minorities, including in the Deep South. The top tax rate was as high as it has ever been and the taxing the rich paid for numerous social programs, job programs, infrastructure rebuilding, etc. Everything from college education to housing was heavily subsidized.

Why don’t we know this? Because it has been written out of the history books used in both public and private schools — with the textbook industry being big business. Because the corporate media is the propaganda wing of plutocracy. And because the ruling elite in both parties have gone to immense effort to constantly push the Overton window to the right. It is only in our enforced ignorance through indoctrination from a young age that the American public is made to feel divided and impotent. The majority of Americans are told the public policies they support are too left-wing, too radical, too fringe. It is one of the most effective propaganda campaigns in world history.

Even now, the forces of corruption are pushing for lesser evilism one more time. Yet each time it pushes politics further right into ever greater evil. The corporate control of the government grows. And the main welfare system in our country is the socialism for the rich. We Americans haven’t yet fought back because we’ve been told we were part of a minority, that we don’t matter. But what if we Americans decided to fight for democracy once again? Then who would stop us? If they tried, it would be revolution. There is no time for democracy like the present. We should not accept anything less.

This is our country. This is our government. It’s time we take it back. That would make America great again, like it was in the radical era generations ago and in the revolutionary era upon which our country was founded. That is as American as it gets, the common people fighting against corrupt power. It’s an American tradition. Let’s honor that tradition. [Fill in your favorite quote from Thomas Jefferson writing about watering the tree of liberty, Abraham Lincoln speaking about justice and equality, Martin Luther King Jr. preaching about the arc of the moral universe, or whatever other great American figure you prefer.]

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Surprise! The “Center” in US Politics Is Very Progressive
by Robert Reich, Common Dreams

On the economy,76 percent of Americans favor higher taxes on the super-rich, including over half of registered Republicans. Over 60 percent favor a wealth tax on fortunes of $50 million or more. Even Fox News polls confirm these trends.

What about health care? Well, 70 percent want Medicare for All, which most define as Medicare for anyone who wants it. Sixty percent of Republicans support allowing anyone under 65 to buy into Medicare.

Ninety-two percent want lower prescription drug pricesOver 70 percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada.

On family issues, more than 80 percent  of Americans want paid maternity leave. Seventy-nine percent of voters want more affordable child care, including 80 percent of Republicans.

Meanwhile, 60 percent of Americans support free college tuition for those who meet income requirements.

Sixty-two percent think climate change is man-made and needs addressing.

Eighty-four percent think money has too much influence in politics. In that poll, 77 percent support limits on campaign spending, and that includes 71 percent of Republicans.

AOC, Sanders, and Warren Are the Real Centrists Because They Speak for Most Americans
by Mehdi Hasan, The Inercept

The Green New Deal is extremely popular and has massive bipartisan support. A recent survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University found that a whopping 81 percent of voters said they either “strongly support” (40 percent) or “somewhat support” (41 percent) the Green New Deal, including 64 percent of Republicans (and even 57 percent of conservative Republicans).

What else do Ocasio-Cortez, Warren, and Sanders have in common with each other — and with the voters? They want to soak the rich. Ocasio-Cortez suggested a 70 percent marginal tax rate on incomes above $10 million — condemned by “centrist” Schultz as “un-American” but backed by a majority (51 percent) of Americans. Warren proposed a 2 percent wealth tax on assets above $50 million — slammed by “moderate” Bloomberg as Venezuelan-style socialism, but supported by 61 percent of voters, including 51 percent of Republicans. (As my colleague Jon Schwarz has demonstrated, “Americans have never, in living memory, been averse to higher taxes on the rich.”)

How about health care? The vast majority (70 percent) of voters, including a majority (52 percent) of Republicans, support a single-payer universal health care system, or Medicare for All. Six in 10 say it is “the responsibility of the federal government” to ensure that all Americans have access to health care coverage.

Debt-free and tuition-free college? A clear majority (60 percent) of the public, including a significant minority (41 percent) of Republicans, support free college “for those who meet income levels.”

A higher minimum wage? According to Pew, almost 6 in 10 (58 percent) Americans support increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to (the Sanders-recommended) $15 an hour.

Gun control? About six out of 10 (61 percent) Americans back stricter laws on gun control, according to Gallup, “the highest percentage to favor tougher firearms laws in two or more decades.” Almost all Americans (94 percent) back universal background checks on all gun sales — including almost three-quarters of National Rifle Association members.

Abortion? Support for a legal right to abortion, according to a June 2018 poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, is at an “all-time high.” Seven out of 10 Americans said they believed Roe v. Wade “should not be overturned,” including a majority (52 percent) of Republicans.

Legalizing marijuana? Two out of three Americans think marijuana should be made legal. According to a Gallup survey from October 2018, this marks “another new high in Gallup’s trend over nearly half a century.” And here’s the kicker: A majority (53 percent) of Republicans support legal marijuana too!

Mass incarceration? About nine out of 10 (91 percent) Americans say that the criminal justice system “has problems that need fixing.” About seven out of 10 (71 percent) say it is important “to reduce the prison population in America,” including a majority (52 percent) of Trump voters.

Immigration? “A record-high 75 percent of Americans,” including 65 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, told Gallup in 2018 that immigration is a “good thing for the U.S.” Six in 10 Americansoppose the construction of a wall on the southern border, while a massive 8 in 10 (81 percent) support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

Ocasio-Cortez’s Socialism Can Work in the Midwest — With a Rebrand
by Eric Levitz, Intelligencer

Both Medicare for All and single-payer health care enjoy majority support in recent polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Data for Progress (DFP), a progressive think tank, used demographic information from Kaiser’s poll to estimate the level of support for Medicare for All in individual states. Its model suggests that, in a 2014 turnout environment — which is to say, one that assumes higher turnout for Republican constituencies — a majority of voters in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania would all support a socialist takeover of the health-insurance industry (so long as you didn’t put the idea to them in those terms).

Now, it is true that support for Medicare for All is malleable when pollsters introduce counterarguments. But even if we stipulate that support for the policy is somewhat weaker than it appears, there is little doubt that any Democrat running on Medicare for All in a purple district will have a more mainstream position on health-care policy than the national Republican Party. Polls consistently find that an overwhelming majority of the American public — one that includes most Republican voters — supports higher federal spending on health care, and opposes cuts to Medicaid (just 12 percent of the public supports cutting that program). Every major GOP health-care plan introduced in the past decade runs counter to those preferences; the ones introduced in the last year would have slashed Medicaid spending by nearly $1 trillion.

The most radical economic policy on Ocasio-Cortez’s platform — a federal job guarantee — meanwhile, actually polls quite well in “flyover country.” In a survey commissioned by the Center for American Progress, a supermajority of voters agreed that “for anyone who is unemployed or underemployed, the government should guarantee them a job with a decent wage doing work that local communities need, such as rebuilding roads, bridges, and schools or working as teachers, home health-care aides, or child-care providers.”

Critically, support for this premise was almost exactly as strong among rural-dwelling demographic groups as it was among urban ones: According to DFP’s modeling, CAP’s proposal boasts roughly 69 percent support in urban zip codes, and 67 percent in rural ones.

There are a lot of reasonable, technocratic objections to the job guarantee as a policy. But polling suggests that there is majoritarian support for a massive public-jobs program of some kind — and that framing said program as “guaranteed jobs” might be politically effective.

Other items on Ocasio-Cortez’s platform poll similarly well. A bipartisan majority of voters have espoused support for “breaking up the big banks” in recent years, while nearly 70 percent of Americans want the government to take “aggressive action” on climate change, according to Reuters/Ipsos.

“Housing as a human right” might sound radical, but in substance, it’s anything but: The Department of Housing and Urban Development believesit could end homelessness with an additional $20 billion a year in funding; other experts put that price tag even lower. I don’t think the question, “Should the government raise taxes for the rich by $20 billion, if doing so would end all homelessness in the U.S.?” has been polled, but I would be surprised if it didn’t poll well, even in the Midwest.

Similarly, on the question of immigration enforcement, Ocasio-Cortez’s position is likely more palatable when rendered in concrete terms than in abstract ones. Many white Midwesterners might recoil at phrases like “abolish ICE” or “open borders.” But if one asks the question, “Should the government concentrate its immigration-enforcement resources on combating violent criminals and gang activity, instead of going after law-abiding day laborers?” I suspect you’d find more support for the democratic socialist point of view.

The palatability of Ocasio-Cortez’s policy platform reflects two important realities: Actually existing “democratic socialism” — which is to say, the brand championed by its most prominent proponents in elected office — is almost indistinguishable from left-liberalism; and left-liberal policies are already quite popular in the United States.

If all Americans voted for the party whose positions on economic policy best matched their own stated preferences, then the Republican Party would not be competitive in national elections. The GOP’s strength derives entirely from the considerable appeal of white identity politics with constituencies that happen to wield disproportionate power over our political system.

Why Did I Become a Leftist?

In a previous post, I threw out some observations and conjecture about empathy in the context of recent interactions I’ve had with my conservative parents. My parents aren’t happy. Their having worked as poll workers in a liberal town on the day of Obama’s victory didn’t help matters.

Politics lately have rubbed salt into the open wounds of conservatism. The media gives us daily updates on the writhing that this has caused in the Republican Party and in the conservative movement in general, especially in relation to the Tea Party whose supporters are always going on about RINOs versus real conservatives. I don’t personally care too much about who those on the right end up sacrificing from their ranks. I’m perfectly fine with them eating their own, as they are apt to do at times like these.

However, I do care about my conservative parents which means I can’t help but personalize the issue of conservatism. I’m easily affected by the unhappiness and distress of those around me. I have a hard enough time keeping myself in a moderately good mood on the best of days, even when the people in my life are feeling satisfied with their place in the world. It would be different if I didn’t see them as often, but their moving back into town has made regular interactions the norm.

I actually like my parents in a general sense, by which I mean when they aren’t explicitly in righteous conservative mode. I’ve always been closer to them than my brothers have, for reasons that I don’t wish to entirely explain at the moment. To put it simply, I guess it comes down to understanding on a fundamental level why my parents are the way they are. I see how much I am my parent’s child. Every trait I love and hate in myself I can find correlates to varying degrees in my parents. Only circumstances clearly distinguish why I became a liberal-minded leftist rather than following in the rightward footsteps of my parents.

Looking back on my high school years in South Carolina, I can see how my left-leaning tendencies weren’t entirely formed and so not inevitable. Any number of events could have caused me to have become a conservative or at least more conservative-minded. At that time, I hadn’t yet returned to this liberal college town in the Midwest, i.e., Iowa City. I also hadn’t yet discovered the wonders and glories of the internet. My intellectual world back then was severely confined relative to my present situation living in a literary town full of book stores and libraries (public and university), all within short walking distance.

Growing up, I talked to my dad about all kinds of intellectual topics (and I still do). It was from him that I learned my intellectual abilities. This was eased both by the fact that I wasn’t yet fully a leftist and my dad wasn’t yet fully a right-winger (my dad could actually watch and enjoy the most liberal of tv shows such as Star Trek: Next Generation without any complaints). At that time, I didn’t have any other role models for what it meant to live a life of the intellect. So, my dad’s conservative intellect, albeit not without some basic liberal-mindedness, was profoundly influential upon my tender young emerging psyche.

I specifically remember two things we discussed around then in my late teens during the mid 1990s: 1) a book about the collapse of the Roman Empire and the rise of homosexuality, and 2) Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve which discusses race and IQ.

I look back now and see these ideas in a larger context. The right-wing culture wars were heating up and my dad was pulled into it. But at the time, I wasn’t a liberal and wasn’t versed in the liberal criticisms. I didn’t know, for example, that Murray’s book wasn’t intellectually credible. I actually took those ideas seriously for the simple reason that I took my dad seriously. I even remember repeating these ideas to others. If my intellectual development had stopped there, I would be an ideologically very different person.

The reason I took those ideas seriously was because of the social environment I found myself in. I was living in South Carolina during high school. After high school, I spent three summers in a conservative Christian YMCA camp in the belt buckle of the Bible Belt. Also, the colleges I went to (Clemson and a local community college) weren’t exactly bastions of liberalism and leftism.

I had no larger perspective at the time, but I knew on a gut-level that there was something wrong with the world I found myself in. Maybe it was depression that saved me. The tidy conservative vision of life appealed to a part of me. Like my parents, I just wanted to be a good person… which in the conservative worldview goes hand in hand with being ‘normal’. There was just one problem. I was incapable of being normal. I had profound sense of dissatisfaction and suspected that it was more than a mere personal problem.

Nonetheless, on a basic level, I understood the attraction of the simple vision of life offered by the conservative worldview. I can’t emphasize that enough. Even to this day, a strong element of conservative-mindedness has survived within me. This is why I’m so conflicted in my relationship with my parents.

If I had never discovered the wonders of liberal-mindedness, I would have ended up as a tragic figure in a conservative story. But my parents had unintentionally planted within me the seed of liberal-mindedness. My parents taught me to think independently, especially my dad who taught me to question and doubt and to think analytically. My parents also kept plenty of liberal-minded literature around the house which formed the background of my mental development.

Still, that wouldn’t have been enough to have made me into a liberal or leftist. My earliest strong introduction to the liberal worldview was public education. Despite being in the Deep South, public school introduced me to a wide variety of people, both my peers and teachers, but particularly teachers.

I had an English teacher who was British and who taught the clssics of the traditional liberal education. Two books that I discovered through his class were Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and Hermann Hesse’s Siddharha. The two protagonists were typical liberal heros dissatisfied with the conservative world they were born into, both ending up alone in poverty, one ending in tragedy and the other in spiritual vision. I internalized the liberal hero and the two possible endings continue to play out in my psyche.

The other teacher I had was in an art class. He loved art with almost a sense of mission. He was one of those rare teachers who realized the power and rsponsibility of being a teacher. What he taught me was to think outside the box, to never assume anything, and to not be afraid to experiment. He is the only teacher I hated to disappoint for he saw potential in me and so allowed me to see it for myself.

Before moving back to liberal Iowa City, I had this basic liberal foundation, although I didn’t yet have a comprehension of liberalism on its own terms. The classical liberal hero, as found in Jude the Obscure and Siddhartha, lived in a conservative society. That was my situation in South Carolina, but Iowa City was a different world. All of a sudden, I found myself surrounded by well-educated liberals, authors regularly visiting for readings, aspiring writers everywhere, and numerous libraries and bookstores. My liberal-minded potential blossomed into my present bleeding heart self.

My mom recently asked me why her children all became so opposite of her and my dad. There is no way I could explain this so she could understand. Asking why I failed to become a conservative is inseparable from asking why conservatism itself has gone off the rails.

As I came into young adulthood, one thing became abundantly clear. Conservatism has offered no good answers or solutions to the problem of human suffering. This isn’t to say conservatives never will, but it would require a lot of deep soul-searching. I’ll be more than willing to reassess conservatism if it ever as a movement decides to offer a compassionate response to the struggles and sufferings of the the least among us.