A center-right nation?

A CENTER-RIGHT NATION?…. If the available evidence is accurate, in about two weeks, Americans will help elect a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate, and possibly a Democratic president. A majority of the nation’s governors are already Democrats. Polls show fairly strong support for the policy agenda presented in the Democratic Party’s platform, including universal healthcare and ending the war in Iraq. Even on culture war issues, most Americans are pro-choice, support the separation of church and state, and are growing increasingly supportive of expanding gay rights.

With all of this in mind, Newsweek’s Jon Meacham has a 3,300-word cover story this week, insisting that the United States is a “center-right” nation, and if Obama is elected, he’d be foolish to forget it.

The piece has already generated some interesting responses, but I’m partial to Media Matters’ Paul Waldman’s take, noting that when Republicans make gains in federal elections, it’s perceived as evidence of a national shift to the right. When Democrats make gains, it doesn’t matter, because the nation still leans to the right. When Republicans win, it’s incumbent on Democrats to move to the center. When Democrats win, it’s still incumbent on Democrats to move to the center.

Waldman also takes this a step further, noting what George W. Bush has done to discredit conservatism going forward.

With the exception of a reduction in the size of government … conservatives got pretty much everything they wanted from George W. Bush. They got tax breaks for the wealthy, huge increases in defense spending, a bellicose foreign policy, two Supreme Court justices ready to overturn Roe v. Wade, a mania for deregulation of business, a Justice Department devoted to advancing the electoral interests of the Republican Party, a consolidation of power in the executive branch, lackadaisical enforcement of environmental regulations, constant efforts to undermine labor unions, and the list goes on and on. This administration has been conservatism in action, and the country couldn’t be more disgusted with the results.

Conservatives are increasingly sounding like they’re stuck in the 1980s, as they warn against the creeping tide of socialism and denounce Obama’s tax plan as “welfare.” You almost expect to hear John McCain take the stage to a pulsing Richard Marx tune, then start reciting lines from “Red Dawn.” It may have reached its apogee when, in her debate with Joe Biden, Sarah Palin quoted Reagan on the danger that if we’re not careful, one day we’ll be telling our children and grandchildren about a time when America was free. What was Reagan warning against in that quote? The passage of Medicare, one of the most successful and popular programs in U.S. history, brought to you courtesy of big-government liberals.

When conservatives take stands like these, so far from the American mainstream, the Beltway acolytes of the Church of Centrism never seem to mind. Will a GOP defeat be greeted with columns by Jon Meacham and his ilk instructing Republicans sternly that they need to abandon their ideology and move to the center, lest they permanently alienate themselves from the public?

I’m not counting on it.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.