Farther Left or Farther Right?
There is a great public debate taking place among the intelligentsia, the political talking heads, and in written media concerning the relative positional/ideological shift of the two main parties. Barely a day goes by when one side or the other doesn’t say something along these lines:
“Today’s Republicans have moved so far Right that there are no more ‘moderate’ Republicans and that’s why compromise is no longer possible.”
“Today’s Democrats have abandoned all the commonly-held ideals and patriotism of their predecessors and now they just cater to one far-left special interest group after another.”
Considering the highly subjective nature of the topic and the self-serving interest each side has in casting the other as ‘extreme’ and themselves as ‘reasonable’ and ‘mainstream,’ this is a nearly impossible proof hill to climb for either the Left or the Right.
Nonetheless, we can rationally examine some data points and reach some general conclusions. President John F. Kennedy was regarded as a mainstream Democrat in his day, but his actual policy stances were nowhere near as leftist as those of today’s Democrats, as evidenced by his approach to foreign policy, use of military power, willingness to confront global adversaries, and tax/economic strategy. To his credit, Kennedy was willing to embrace “big national issues” such as the space program that entailed massive government spending, without his promising any immediate obligatory payback to a particular voting constituency. Kennedy was not politically beholden to liberal special interests the way today’s Democrats are.
His 1961 Inaugural Address provides a fascinating contrast to today’s typical Democrat:
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty....
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Kennedy also instituted significant income tax reductions, realizing that this would spur economic activity and therefore increase government tax revenue. In today’s parlance, this is known as “supply side” economics, definitely a Republican-styled approach to fiscal policy.
Even though Kennedy was a mainstream Democrat at the time, his are not positions with which today’s “mainstream” Democrats would agree. The idea of “not asking what your country can do for you” represents a 180-degree shift away from the über-supportive social guarantees promised by current Democratic candidates. No Democrat today would ever utter such a thought.
Similarly, for today’s Democratic racial standard-bearers led by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Cornell West, Tavis Smiley, and many others, attention to racial differences is the lifeblood of their existence. Martin Luther King’s famous theme of “....judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin” is anathema to today’s Democratic race purveyors. In this important area, current Democrats have made an obvious and intentional lurch leftward, apparently for the purpose of perpetuating and expanding Government tax-funded minority assistance programs with the aim of influencing their vote. There is no implication in this article that such assistance programs are not needed in specific situations. However, the ultimate goal of a colorless American society such as MLK envisioned in his speech 50+ years ago appears to have been abandoned by today’s Democratic Party.
Indeed, the current Democratic platform is primarily one of identifying individual liberal special interest groups -- minorities, LGBT, environmentalists, women, illegal immigrants, etc. -- and crafting specific Government-funded programs targeted directly at them in order to curry favor with those voting blocs.
The Democratic platform a generation or two ago was one of overriding national initiatives (stopping the spread of communism, the Moon landing effort, etc.), with the addition of supplemental safety net accompaniments. Now their platform is one of multiple targeted taxpayer-funded giveaways and no overriding national initiatives. It doesn’t get more left-shifted than that. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to liken today’s Democratic social/economic policy to a purely socialist country.
Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans haven’t actively moved to their extreme ideological end as much as the national mood and sense of normalcy on a few matters has shifted away from them, while the Republican position has remained unchanged. This is most notable on gay marriage, which the Republican Party opposes. However, as late as the early 2000’s, Democrats like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were publicly on record as opposing gay marriage, but as the LGBT-supportive voting bloc -- encouraged by the liberal media -- became electorally significant, Clinton and Obama’s position (and the position of the Democratic Party in general) miraculously “evolved.” Leftward.
With their party philosophy of strong national defense, lower taxes, pro-life, smaller, less-intrusive business-friendly government, “equal opportunity, not equal outcome,” and reasonable but limited regulation, the Republican Party’s stances have not shifted to be “more conservative,” but instead have remained amazingly consistent in the modern era since Kennedy. Republicans are accused by current Democratic politicians and the liberal media of having become more intractably conservative -- but this is mostly to deflect attention away from the Democrats’ own tangible and significant policy-evidenced leftward ideological shift.