At the moment, Washington is not in a good state. With the government shutdown, Congress’s approval ratings are the lowest they’ve ever been. For the 113th Congress, it’s rather telling when, Fidel Castro, renowned communist leader and enemy of the people, is more popular in the polls than you.
Now, the reason for this unproductive legislature is due to the increasing polarisation of the two political parties. Ever since Richard Nixon’s southern strategy and Ronald Reagan’s economics, the Republicans have become increasingly right wing. And now with Obama’s second term, it seems that the Democrats are becoming increasingly left-wing and liberal, especially with the recent implementation of the Obamacare site.
But are the Democrats really that liberal? While they are the party of liberal icons such as John F. Kennedy, American attitudes towards socialism prevent them from being fully left wing. But the party continues to promote itself as the champion of minorities, women and the unions in its speeches.
A Senator, upon a visit from UK officials, was heard to say, ‘We have a Republican party, which is sort of like your Conservative party, and we have the Democrat party, which is sort of like your Conservative party.’ This wasn’t a typo, but an honest explanation of the parties positions on the political spectrum. And in the speeches of several Democratic presidents, this is a prevalent issue. Bill Clinton, in his 1994, State of the Union address, talks about ‘cutting the deficit by half a trillion dollars’, something that all Americans can agree on. But the methods he used to achieve this, cutting public spending in several areas, are staunchly economically conservative. Likewise, the language he uses, mentioning ‘responsibility’ on the part of the citizen, and derisively calling the welfare system of the time ‘a way of life’ reeks of right wing semantics and rhetoric. While he talks of reforming the health care system, he never mentions ‘nationalisation’, ‘government health care’, or any words that might ring republican alarm bells. Instead he talks ‘private’ insurance and guaranteeing ‘premiums’. I’ts the bare minimum of reform, which fits with Clintons ‘blue dog’ discourse of ‘Socially Liberal, Economically Conservative’. At face value it seems like Clinton is changing the lives of American people, but the details of his address, all of which have no doubt been carefully planned out by his staff, show he wasn’t willing to intervene in America’s economy, by extension, change people’s circumstances.
And this goes further back, as no Democrat president since FDR actually backed up the ideology they claimed to support. Kennedy and Johnson used words to evoke a feeling of unity, progress and federal responsibility, calling their policies the ‘New Frontier’ and ‘The Great Society’ respectively. But Kennedy’s administration was more focused on spending taxpayer’s money on the space race, and in 1963 he wanted to lower corporate tax rates, in stark contrast to most Democrat presidents after 1945. Johnson spent more money on the Vietnam War, which prevented him from enacting any of his policies. JFK’s speeches often explain how civil rights are an ‘elementary right’ and that the constitution supported it, but one can’t help but think that this was just as motivated by the desire to get the black vote as it was by any moral obligation. Nixon desegregated more schools than JFK and Johnson combined. That’s right, Nixon, the byword for presidential corruption, and a Republican, at that.
While I complain about this state of affairs, there is the fact that a candidate who wants to increase taxes, nationalise the health care system and increase public spending would never be elected. George McGovern, the Democratic presidential candidate for 1972, was notably very honest about what he wanted, and was staunchly left-wing. In his speeches, his discourse was clear: end the Vietnam War, and increase public spending in order to repair the country. He calls this ‘National Security’, unashamed of his views. He doesn’t just use words evoking the feeling of liberl ideology, he says it outright, telling people ‘that whatever employment the private sector does not provide, the Federal government will either stimulate or provide itself.’ The choice of words, ‘stimulate’ and ‘provide’ make his opinion clear. McGovern wasn’t just using repetition and sound bites to fool the American people. Maybe this was why he didn’t win.
Now, you’re probably wondering where the Incumbent president stands. Well, looking at the speeches of McGovern, Kennedy and Obama, I found that Obama had the most in common with McGovern. Both of them talk of creating a ‘more perfect union’ through ‘stimulating’ the economy, and say they want to provide ‘jobs’ rather than assuming the market will provide. Obama spoke of withdrawing troops from Iraq; much like McGovern spoke of withdrawing from Vietnam. It wasn’t an aim it was a promise. Overall, I feel that Obama provides a future for the Democrat part, keeping them close to their New deal Roots, while allowing them to get into the White House with his youth and charisma complementing his liberal views. If only the Republican party would follow his lead, they might find an reasonable right winger who would get elected. But that might be another 30 years before that happens.