Dear Wingnut, are we really a center-right nation?

Our undercover conservative insists America remains moderate to conservative, no matter what happened last November

Published June 29, 2009 10:20AM (EDT)

Dear Wingnut,

I got such a kick out of this line from your June 22 column: "The United States remains a center-right country composed of people who believe in center-right values, like family, hard work and honesty."

I keep hearing this "center-right majority" phrase thrown about, but I had no idea that "family, hard work and honesty" were considered "center-right" values. I'm an Obama-votin', ACLU-card-totin', gay-marriage-promotin' hippy-dippy liberal, but I'm also a faithful husband and loving father whose life could objectively be described as moral and productive. Are people like me being included in your reckoning of "center-right" America because of our "family values"? That would be rather like being posthumously baptized into the LDS Church; just because you want your group to look bigger doesn't make it true.

I know it's hard to lose election after election, but do you guys really think the country is politically "conservative" just because we're not all out there stealing and murdering to our hearts' content? What about actual policies? How do you reconcile this "center-right" majority with public support for "liberal" programs like Medicare and Social Security? Even Republican pollsters admit that the public wouldn't mind greater government involvement in controlling healthcare costs.


Joe V., Eagle Scout  

Hello again. This week the editors at Salon have asked me to address how it can be, as Joe V. said in his question and as many of you asked in your letters and comments on last week's column, that conservatives continue to believe America is a center-right country.

I have to confess it was a little surprising that this idea made so many of you so angry -- but I won't be surprised to see that anger repeated in my response to this week's column. Conservatives do not believe this is a right-wing country; only that it is governed by center-right values, not center-left or liberal ones -- at least not "liberal" in the Barack Obama/Nancy Pelosi sense of the word.

More than a few of you were outraged by the idea that values like family and work should be considered center-right values when you yourselves believe in them and you consider yourselves liberal.

But consider "family." Is it conservatives or liberals who are engaged in an effort to expand or even rewrite the definition of what constitutes a family?

When it comes to work, who was it who opposed the Clinton-era "Welfare to Work" law as being unfair and punitive by requiring able-bodied men and women on welfare to get a job? It wasn't conservatives. And, as we can see from recent as well as historical polling data, these are positions supported by a majority of the country.

In June, a survey from the Gallup Organization showed that 40 percent of Americans interviewed described themselves as "conservative." Another 35 percent said they were "moderate" while 21 percent said they were "liberal."

Conservatives, despite the results of the last two national elections, outnumber liberals by 2-to-1. If you add the moderates into one of the two camps by the same 2-to-1 ratio, the conservative position is easily the majority.

This is not new, although the split is slightly more pronounced. Gallup analysts said the new figures are little changed from data collected over the past decade but "the nation appears to be slightly more polarized than it was in the early 1990s."

"Compared with the 1992-1994 period, the percentage of moderates has declined from 42 percent to 35 percent, while the percentages of conservatives and liberals are up slightly -- from 38 percent to 40 percent for conservatives and a larger 17 percent to 21 percent movement for liberals," Gallup said.

Let's look at this idea a little deeper by examining a few issues.

According to a survey by the polling firm known as the polling company/WomanTrend, more than two-thirds of the electorate would prefer to see judges nominated to the federal bench who exhibit a conservative philosophy than a liberal one.

"Two-in-three actual voters in 2008 would prefer that the president nominate judges and justices who believe that their roles as judges 'is solely to evaluate whether a law or lower court ruling is in line with the constitution' rather than those who believe that 'their roles as judges is not simply to review the law as it is written and not take into account their own viewpoints and experiences,'" the firm found.

They also discovered that 87 percent of American adults believe it is appropriate for government to make sure U.S. healthcare providers are not forced to participate in "procedures and practices to which they have moral objections." To review the bidding, that is the Bush administration position, one that Obama pulled back in his first days in office to curry favor with pro-abortion rights groups.

In April the Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of American adults believe that "when something is run by government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful," and that 55 percent of Americans believe that "the federal government controls too much of our daily lives."

According to a June 2009 ABC News/Washington Post poll, 54 percent of American adults would prefer a smaller government with fewer services (the conservative position) than the 41 percent who preferred one that is larger with more services (the liberal position). To go further, surveys show substantial support for such "conservative ideas" as English as the official language of government, ending government preferences based on race, and reasonable limits on abortion.

This includes the 93 percent who, in one recent poll, rejected the idea that abortions should be permitted "at any time during a woman's pregnancy and for any reason." In fact Gallup now shows that, for the first time, 51 percent of Americans -- do I need to say this constitutes a majority? -- said they were "pro-life" rather than "pro-choice."

These are all dominant issues in America's political life, issues that command national attention with some intensity. Admittedly, polls are snapshots of opinions in time. It's certainly possible to find equally reputable pollsters who can produce data that shows something else, but what about when people vote, "the only poll that counts," as someone once said.

Looking at it this way, where issues are on the ballot rather than candidates -- when actual positions on policy are not obscured by political personalities and partisan preference -- there is still plenty of evidence the center-right position usually prevails.

When government spending and revenues are out of balance the liberal position is almost always to increase revenues by raising taxes. In California, which Barack Obama carried in 2008 with 61 percent of the vote, a recent statewide ballot measure to raise taxes to balance the budget was defeated with 64 percent of the vote.

More than that, it failed to win a majority of the vote in a single county in what is the nation's most populous state. This is the same state where voters have twice approved ballot measures to prevent recognition of an expanded definition of marriage as something more than being between a man and a woman.

America is neither a liberal nor a conservative country, but conservatives believe it skews to the right. From a political standpoint, conservatism as a political force is much where it was after 1964, 1976 and 1992, when the Johnson, Carter and Clinton presidential victories had most pundits believing the country had lurched off its traditional ideological axis. But those elections were followed by the conservative victories of 1966, 1978, 1980, 1994 and 2000 as the country's traditional alignment reasserted itself.

I hope that helps. 

By Glenallen Walken

Glenallen Walken is the pseudonym of a longtime conservative political operative who was an official in the George W. Bush administration.

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