Why the American Left is Really the Center

Thanks to America’s shift rightward, candidates who would’ve been considered centrists are now called left-wing radicals.

Barack Obama is too conservative to get elected in many countries, where he is viewed as a neoliberal (more than one person said that to my face, unprompted, when I was traveling in Europe last year). So how could it be that, in America, he’s placed on the left side of the political spectrum? Simple: Worldwide, the political spectrum is far broader than we conceptualize it in the US. Equally important, our political spectrum in America has been radically distorted from what it once was.

Candidates who would’ve once been considered centrists are now called left-wing radicals. See: Bernie Sanders. Candidates who would’ve been considered right-wing extremists are now squarely in the center of the right-wing spectrum. All the current Republican candidates for president are far to the right of Reagan and Nixon.

In reality, Sanders is left of center (and closer to true center than Clinton) and Clinton is right of center. Sanders is about as “radical” as Truman or FDR (the most popular president of all time).

What caused America’s rightward shift on the spectrum? It has roots in the Red Scare, the civil rights backlash, the feminist backlash, and the Southern Strategy. Above all, though, it was the rise of neoliberalism that pushed America too far to the right.

How can we choose the proper “middle” when the boundaries of the path have been moved?

When we ourselves are presented with the Left vs. Right paradigm, many of us think the reasonable thing to do is choose the center—not go too far left or right. We’re taught to avoid extremes from a young age, through stories like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Extreme positions can make us feel uncomfortable; better to choose the middle path.

But how can we choose the proper “middle” when the boundaries of the path have been moved?

Today, the right is perfectly happy with you choosing to be centrist. Because when everything shifted to the right, you had to choose to walk along the left margin just to stay in the center. The right is counting on you not making that choice—it’s too extreme. Or is it?

We now face an extreme catastrophe of ecology and economy. Thanks to our rightward shift (which has exacerbated the problem) we often can’t even discuss the needed solutions, which we’re told are too far left—outside the new boundaries of debate and policy. But climate change makes it only a matter of time before we come back to the center that is otherwise known as reality.

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