There is a sharp and consequential asymmetry between left and right in American politics. It is my purpose here to describe the asymmetry and explain both its origins and consequences. But first an important clarification: the asymmetry does not refer to the stark differences in political philosophy that characterize the two poles of American political persuasion. Rather, it encompasses the nature of the adherents of each persuasion: how intensely do they believe in the merits of their political ideas; how much legitimacy do they ascribe to their opponents’ views; how well do they understand the role that their sides’ ideas have played in the history of the nation; and what is the level of confidence in the applicability of their ideas to resolutions of the nation’s problems in the future?
Actually, I began this work in an earlier piece in which I essentially considered these topics as applied to the cadre of national GOP candidates. Let me quickly recall that material. As I said in there, with virtually no exceptions, GOP candidates fall into one of the following three categories:
- RINOs – meaning that they do not really believe that progressivism and big government are bad for America – it’s just that the Democrats are screwing it up and Republicans should be entrusted with the task of implementing the progressive agenda because they will do it more efficiently and cost effectively than liberal Democrats have or could.
- CRUELs – that is, confused Republicans who are unable to exercise leadership. These are conservative politicians whose hearts and minds may be in the right place, but they are unable to: (i) articulate their beliefs; (ii) explain the connection between progressivism and the ills that beset the nation; (iii) describe clearly how conservative policies will enhance liberty and economic prosperity; and (iv) deflect the vicious slanders that the Democrats hurl at them.
- CCCs – that is, committed, conservative constitutionalists. These are politicians who have a clear understanding of what the progressives have wrought and how the country has changed. They can envision and describe the bleak future that awaits us if we don’t have a major course correction. Furthermore, such people also have a clear idea of what must be done to return the country to its founding ethos, re-institute the ideals of free market capitalism, constitutional and limited governance, and American exceptionalism and thereby restore the republic. Moreover, they can explain these ideas clearly and simply.
In fact, GOP voters can be pigeon-holed into essentially the same three categories. That is, your average citizen who usually pulls the Republican lever in the election booth can be described in one of these three ways:
- Despite the fact that the voter thinks of himself as conservative, said individual has no real objection to the progressive remake of America. He is not opposed to big government; he just feels the government could be run more efficiently and cost-effectively. He favors government entitlement programs like Medicare, Social Security and food stamps. He is fairly liberal on social issues; uncertain about defense matters; and vaguely Keynesian in economic outlook. Exactly why he identifies as a Republican, much less a conservative, is unclear. Perhaps it’s a family tradition; or the extreme left wing positions of too many in the Democrat Party scare him; or, most likely, it’s because he is genuinely confused about what the labels “conservative” or “Republican” should stand for. It’s a sorry fact that so many GOP voters fall into this RINO category. It’s even sorrier that so many GOP candidates do likewise.
- A person with bona fide conservative inclinations, but someone who has difficulty articulating those thoughts – either to himself or to others. Such a person will likely sense the flaws and dangers in the progressive agenda, but he lacks the confidence or agility to explain them. If placed in a leadership position, he is unable to motivate or stimulate those under his command to adopt conservative policies – in part because his understanding of them is weak and the influence of the nation’s liberal gestalt (see below) on him has been substantial. Alas, there are a great number of GOP voters who fall under this rubric, and even sadder, a surprising number of GOP leaders who fit this description – Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Chris Christie and Jon Huntsman come to mind. Among the troops, these CRUEL types are a reliable GOP vote, but they rarely have the gumption or depth of belief to convince others to follow them. The CRUEL acronym fits these voters as well as the corresponding politicians, except that this time it stands for “confused Republicans unable to excise liberalism.”
- True blue conservatives. That is, those who: have a deep understanding of the path down which progressives have led the nation during the last century; can articulate how conservative principles and policies in place from the American Revolution until the early twentieth century made our nation the freest, most prosperous country in the history of the world; appreciate how, despite the erosion of those principles in the twentieth century, America still managed to retain enough of its moxie to summon the will and courage to twice rescue the world from totalitarianism; and who can explain how the progressive putsch over the last 50 years threatens to destroy our republic, together with its freedoms and prosperity.
The forgoing is a rather sharp delineation of the components of the right wing of America into three distinct and easily identifiable groups. Therefore it is natural to ask: what are the analogs on the left? What are the distinct subclasses and how many are there? Well, the first thing to notice is that DINOs don’t exist. They’re not just extinct – they never existed. There are no self-identifying Democrats who covertly believe (consciously or subconsciously) that individual liberty trumps social justice and equality; or that the government is oppressively big and needs to be reined in; or that affirmative action is really reverse discrimination and a level playing field is all that society owes each individual. There are no Democrats who are comfortable with a Reaganite program of low federal taxes, regulation and spending, strong national defense, pride in American Exceptionalism and promotion of strong, traditional families. There are no Democrat voters who are closet conservatives that feel the conservative program should be pursued – but just with more attention to the welfare of minorities, gays, the poor and the third world. There are no DINOs – period.
But in fact, like the Republicans, the Democrats may be cracked up into three distinct cohorts. Before I describe them, I must mention two critical occurrences over the last two generations that in many ways account for the delineation I am about to offer. The first is that the Democrat Party has moved hard to the left in that time. There are no Scoop Jackson or Pat Moynihan Democrats. Well maybe Joe Lieberman, but he was drummed out of the Party. James Webb and Joe Manchin are pale imitations and, anyway, they are considered stark outliers. The center of gravity of the Democrat Party is far to the left of what it has been anytime from its inception (with the Andrew Jackson era a possible exception) until George McGovern’s nomination. Today, far leftists like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are considered totally mainstream Democrats.
The second feature of American life that has had a tremendous effect on the nature of the Democrat Party is the no longer disputed fact that the left has gained control of virtually all of the opinion-molding organs of America society: the media, public education, the legal profession, higher education, foundations, libraries, seminaries, etc. While it is true that many in the Party are active in that putsch, it is also the fact that the result has had a big effect on the Party. Moreover, it is this phenomenon – the capture of the culture by the left – that is really the origin, the central font, which explains the asymmetry that I am about to describe.
So, here are the categories into which the left divides:
- LIVs – that is, low information voters. This encompasses all those who pay little attention to politics; are woefully uninformed about current events; and have barely any understanding of the difference between leftist progressivism and right-wing conservatism. But because of the second fact above, these voters tend to break overwhelmingly for Democrats over Republicans – at least when they accidentally find themselves (or when they are escorted there) in the voting booth.
- LEFTYs – By this category I mean citizens who are serious about their politics, measured in their assessments and opinions, but whose political proclivities tend toward collectivism, order/equality over liberty, big government programs, and who see the government as the ultimate source of solutions for any serious problem confronting the US. They may or may not be articulate and terribly coherent in their understanding of or ability to explain their own political inclinations. But they are certain that they lean left and they view the Democrat Party as more representative of their political beliefs than the Republicans.
- RADs – that is, the radical wing of the Democrat Party. The name suggests that it should be a small subset, but alas, it has grown in size to be a substantial minority of the American left wing. These are hard-core, doctrinaire leftists – analogous to the hard-core right wing in CCC. They are completely conversant with political issues, believe deeply that America’s history and supposed purpose are irrevocably stained by slavery, racism, sexism and aggressive military force. They see unfettered free enterprise as immoral and believe the State should be the driving force in society.
At first glance, one might see in the six categories – three on each side – a balance in American politics. But it is not so. Here is why.
Among the three cohorts on the right, only one is deeply committed to conservative values. Within the other two cohorts, one is typically confused or uncertain; and the other is more often than not playing for the opposite side. On the other hand, among the three cohorts on the left, two are fundamentally committed to the cause and the one that isn’t is easily swayed by emotion into supporting it.
Now one should augment this analysis by assigning weights according to size of cohort in the six categories. Well, this is difficult to do since there are no surveys in which precisely these six categories are used to pigeon-hole the electorate. Let me just say the following:
- Together the CRUELs and RINOs far outnumber the CCCs.
- Together the RINOs and LIVs form a substantial portion of the electorate. And of course, typically that combined grouping leans overwhelmingly left.
- The CCCs and RADs each constitute a minority of their respective sides; but in each case, they bring a passion and commitment to their cause that the other two components do not. However, the whole raison d’être of the RADs is to seize power, while that of the CCCs is to conserve tradition and render smaller the power of government in the people’s lives.
Next let’s provide answers to the questions posed in the first paragraph. The answers are predicated on the demographic implications of the preceding set of bullets. So, for example, your typical lefty is either a committed progressive who is intolerant of conservative thought, or a low information voter who unthinkingly sympathizes with the progressive agenda. Voters on the right on the other hand include: some deeply conservative persons; but more numerous establishment types, vaguely uncomfortable with the progressive agenda but either uncertain or confused by the conservative program; and a few closet progressives voting for the GOP for peculiar reasons. Thus in answer to the four questions:
- Those who believe deeply in the merit of their ideas constitute a higher percentage on the left than on the right.
- Neither side ascribes much legitimacy to the other’s point of view. But the right views the left as wrong or misguided; the left believes rightists are either criminal or insane.
- Leftists believe that without the progressive progress of the twentieth century, America would have long ago degenerated into into a racist, misogynistic, business-oriented dictatorship. In fact, they think that in spite of twentieth century progress, the country still leans that way. Conservatives believe leftists have abandoned classic American ideals. Leftists see rightist ideas as evil. Rightists see leftist ideas as merely wrong or misguided.
- The left believes their policies will lead to nirvana; the right sees theirs leading to a partial restoration of the glory that was America.
In short, the asymmetry can be summed up as follows. Those on the left have a bleak vision of America’s past, are certain that they know how to transform the country so that it will enjoy a more enlightened future and are completely intolerant of any who don’t agree with them. Those on the right feel that the progressives of the 20th century have betrayed American’s lofty ideals, and wish to restore the American ethos as envisioned by the Founders.
The left is absolutely convinced of the justice of its cause, cannot fathom that it might be wrong and is completely dismissive of the conservative point of view. Whereas the right sometimes sees merit in ideas emanating from the left and is willing to compromise, the left believes the right is totally wrong, hopelessly retrograde and not worthy of respect.
Given the asymmetry just described and (i) above, the right should be getting slaughtered in national elections. And for the most part, it has been – in presidential elections. But as explained in another prior piece, all those LIVs tend to come out only in presidential elections; the right is doing far better in local and even national elections that do not involve a choice for president. Those days might be numbered, however. Again, given the left’s capture of the culture, the asymmetry in the attitudes and behavior between left and right, and the fact that the numbers may become more imbalanced, the prognosis might not be so good for the conservative cause.
This essay also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative