In my book and elsewhere (see, for example, here and here), I’ve argued that American society has shifted in a decidedly libertarian direction — i.e., left on culture and right on economics — over the past generation, and that American political culture reflects this shift. Regarding economics at least, Ezra seems to agree:
America’s political consensus is almost absurdly to the right. But because people still need to run to the left of each other, the rhetoric on offer frequently sounds like the rhetoric of the left, even as its actual prescriptions are decidedly within the mainstream of our fairly conservative consensus on economics. And vice versa in other countries, where rhetoric of the right can refer to almost comically leftist policies. where the center is much further left — and in other countries, the precise opposite happens.
Ezra makes this point in an effort to counter charges that John Edwards is a dangerous left-wing populist. Fair enough — I agree that Edwards’ policy views would fall on the right side of the center line in many European countries. But since he’s running for office in the United States, I don’t see how that matters much.
Rather, I think Ezra’s point means we shouldn’t make too much of the current popularity of left-wing populist rhetoric. After all the globalization and “new economy” hype of the ’90s, we were bound to experience a swing in the political and rhetorical pendulum; meanwhile, the Bush administration and its failures have given the leftward swing additional momentum.
But when we get past rhetoric and electioneering and move to actual policymaking, we’re still in a very libertarian political culture by world standards. So progressives who imagine we’re on the verge of a big lurch toward social democracy are setting themselves up for a major disappointment.