Editorials, Opinion

What does it really mean for America to be ‘center-right’?

In an interview on CNN, Sen. Joe Manchin claimed the United States of America is a center-right country, politically speaking.

He may have gotten this figure from a Gallup poll of 18,000 U.S. adults that concluded “36%, on average, identif[y] as conservative, 35% as moderate and 25% as liberal” in 2020.

The political right carries the moniker “conservative,” from “to conserve” (preserve, maintain, safeguard, protect). The political left takes “liberal” as its title (generous, open-minded, abundant, tolerant), while the so-called far-left is labeled “progressive,” from “to progress” (develop, evolve, improve, grow). And the political center is deemed “moderate” (reasonable, sensible, balanced, fair).

There is undeniably a segment of American voters who want to conserve — to maintain. Traditionalists have their place: They become the touchstones of the nation’s past. They remember the core of the country’s foundation and wish to preserve it.

But societies cannot sustain themselves if they never evolve. Time changes all things, and all things must change with time.

The Constitution opens with these words: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

These are the fundamental values America seeks to conserve. But our understanding of those values — to whom they apply and how — has changed significantly since those words were written.

Once upon a time, “ourselves and our Posterity” did not include people of color. It did not include women, or indigenous peoples. But with time, we have come to realize that the “we” in “We the People” is far more expansive than the framers intended, and the nation is better for it.

 Americans have been frustrated with our government for decades, perhaps because, increasingly, our “representatives” seek to conserve — to maintain the status quo or even convert back to the past — while the people long for at least some progress — for evolution and improvement.

Conservatives are outnumbered by moderates and liberals nearly 2 to 1, and yet it is conservatives who wield disproportionate power in the government. Self-identifying conservatives heavily weight the Republican Party, with 75% of the GOP claiming the moniker.

The Democratic Party, however, is home to a wider array of ideologies: 51% identify as liberal and 35% as moderate, while a full 12% would call themselves conservative. This “big tent” is a nod to the party’s inclusivity, but it puts Democrats at a disadvantage when the Republican Party only has to court conservative voters.

It doesn’t help that gerrymandered district maps have given Republicans the electoral advantage for the last 10 years and will again for the next 10. A New York Times analysis says, “Republicans have control over the redistricting process in states that represent 187 congressional seats, compared with just 75 for Democrats.” In 12 already approved maps, Republicans successfully gerrymandered five “secure” seats, while Democrats almost certainly lost one.

Because of this, Republicans in Congress, particularly in the Senate, have the ability to run government contrary to the wish of the majority despite multiple polls that have shown broad public support for many of President Biden’s proposals. More and more, the country is leaning toward a rule by political minority, where those who wish to “conserve” are able to halt all forward progress.