Is the Country Moving Left? St. Thomas style….

Thanks to commenter Tim for the question, and my sincere apologies to St. Thomas Aquinas:

Objection 1: It seems that the country is moving to the left. In the recent election, the Democratic party picked up seats in both houses of Congress and won the Presidency.

Objection 2: A disproportionate number of younger voters voted for the Democratic party in the recent election.

Objection 3: The polling on social issues such as same-sex marriage has moved dramatically leftward over the past thirty years.

Objection 4: The recent bailouts will result in expanded government intervention in the economy.

On the contrary,

to the extent the question is meaningful, the country as a whole cannot be said to be moving either left or right. Rather, on certain issues public opinion is moving towards the Democratic party, and on others towards the Republican party. For example, President-elect Obama ran on a platform of tax cuts for 95% of Americans, which is traditionally a Republican issue. Traditionally, Democrats are opposed to the death penalty (and rightly so, it’s unnecessary), but President-elect Obama not only supported the death penalty, but criticized the Supreme Court recently when they banned the practice for child rapists.

I answer that, the question is perhaps meaningless, but that the returns of one election (itself radically different from the preceding election in 2004) are not sufficient to draw a definite conclusion.

Reply to Objection 1: The recent election returns were in large part a reaction to a very unpopular incumbent President and an economic collapse. As the blogger and former philosophy-major Matthew Yglesias has said, it seems likely that voters chose the Democrats because they were not the Republicans rather than because of newly discovered virtues in the Democratic party.

Reply to Objection 2: Younger voters did vote heavily for the Democratic party, which is not surprising considering their exposure to the leadership of the Republican party consists almost entirely of the last eight years. This could signal an emerging Democratic majority, or it could not. To a large extent, younger voters impressions of the Democratic party will depend on the successes and/or failures of President-elect Obama.

Reply to Objection 3: There has indeed been a dramatic shift in polling on same-sex marriage over the past thirty years. At the same time, there has been either no change or a slight increase in the number of individuals self-identifying as pro-life. It is incorrect, then, to say the country as a whole is moving left on social issues. It depends on the issue.

Reply to Objection 4: The bailouts do point to additional government intervention in the economy. Nevertheless, the bailouts are unpopular with the public. Nearly 60% of voters in the recent Presidential election indicated that they opposed the financial industry bailout, and there is evidence of strong resistance to the automobile bailout. It is premature to conclude that the bailouts will move the country to the left (or to the right).

5 Responses to Is the Country Moving Left? St. Thomas style….

  • Some “progressives” are already telling other “progressives” to shut up and stop whining as to how Obama, as a result of his appointments, seems quite a bit more “moderate” than he did during the campaign. http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/11/23/obama/

    Rather than a move to the Left, with Cook County Illinois Democrats now running the nation, I anticipate a move to the trough. The main characteristics of most elected officials in Cook County have been a strong interest in political patronage and an insatiable desire to get rich through “public service”. Obama and his forty plus thieves are now in charge of the treasury and the results should be hilarious and completely predicatable.

  • “predicatable.” should be predictable.

  • 1. Reply to reply to objection 1- the nation swings back and forth between the left and the right. It will do same for forseeable future. Check 2010 midterms for progress report.
    2. Young voters selected a hip cool candidate who actually uses an ipod rather than- as Jonah Goldberg suggested- the one who resembles the angry old man who regularly shouts, “you kids get off my lawn!” But they still didn’t turn out proportionate to their size. If you rely on them to get elected, you’re nutz.
    3. Two words- Prop 8. Still law unless the 4 libs on the Supremes pull Anthony Kennedy in their direction.
    4. Notice how the Congressional brethren went home for Turkey Day without goodies for GM, Ford, Chrysler. Stories of AIG execs on wild spending sprees do not make Joe and Jane Taxpayer very happy. Then the issue of cause and effect. If they were to make a difference, Secretary Paulson, why can’t we get mortgages any easier? Don’t ask Hank. Still can’t get his shoe out of his mouth.

  • I am not really using the wins and losses of the blue team or the red team as my benchmark as to where this country is headed. I get confused too easily when talking about republicans and democrats and what they are about or not about etc.

    My point is, with respect to social issues, what is the consensus today as compared to where it stood 20, 50, 100, 200 years ago? What is “socially acceptable” now compared to then? I don’t have a lot of hard data to back up my beliefs, really. True, I didn’t live 50, 100, or 200 years ago, so I have to rely on my understanding of history and my understanding of human nature–so I guess you could sort of say I just “feel it in my bones” but I see a liberalizing, a “loosening-up” if you will of social mores. And I have a really hard time seeing social mores “tightening up” within our existing political framework, polling data notwithstanding.

    With respect to economic policy, as long as there is a sizable middle class then you will see a pendulum. But when the day comes–and it is coming–that the lower classes significantly outnumber the middle and upper classes, you won’t see quite so much of a pendulum anymore. This doesn’t mean that the blue team and the red team won’t still fight it out, but the fight between the blue team and the red team will be carried out over issues that were previously fought over only within the blue team. For instance, don’t you think that ultimately the issue isn’t going to be about WHETHER there should be universal healthcare, but over the various details? I doubt anything too dramatic will happen in our lifetime, however, so please don’t regard me as some kind of alarmist or crazy doomsday type guy.

    Isn’t that already happening? Yes, there is still substantial resistance to abortion and gay marriage etc., but how long will the battle really be about WHETHER these things should be allowed, and for the mainstream won’t ultimately become a question of the details? Again, I am not saying I approve or not of either practice.

    So to say that the country moves to the left is not to say that the red team is not going to beat the blue team at some point in the future. I would suggest that the country is *ultimately* moving to the left, and that it is inevitable. But I can’t prove it, since I won’t live long enough. I can only read Polybius and see if I can find a pattern as he thought he did.

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