One of the interesting things I’ve noticed when reading opinions from normal American voters (not bloggers – I mean people on forums, Yahoo! Answers and the like) is how confused many of them are when it comes to understanding the political ideas espoused by many of the candidates in the race to become president. For example, the view is often expressed that Hillary Clinton ought not be president because she is a ‘socialist’. Other Democratic candidates are equally dismissed as representing the ‘far-left’ or espousing ‘socialist healthcare’. Several times, I’ve been called a ‘Leninist’, ‘Communist’ or ‘Stalinist’ after questioning the official version of events from Downing Street or the White House. The New York Times, The Guardian and MSNBC News are all regularly referred to as being ‘of the left’, ‘far-left’, ‘socialist’ and even ‘communist’, despite the fact that they are broadly establishment-friendly liberal media outlets. In Spain, Aznar and the FAES-Libertad Digital-El Mundo alliance have regularly referred to the PSOE as ‘the socialists, communists and anarchists’ – language borrowed almost word for word from Franco’s fascist dictatorship.
This phenomenon casts light on two particular points worth looking at. Firstly, that the propaganda of the cold war era still courses through many people’s veins. People still fear socialism in a more primal way than they fear even Islamism or other far-right ideologies. The United States is not at risk of getting a socialist president any time soon, so why is this irrational fear perpetuated? The reason is that the USA represents a spectacularly unequal capitalist society and has all the accompanying problems that might be expected. Rather than noting that socialism might offer a solution to some of these problems (as it clearly does), people are instead encouraged to have a Red Dawn* style view of socialism. The true ‘threat’ of socialism is, of course, an empowered and united labour force.
The second point is that it has become standard practice to label any political opponent who is even slightly to the left of yourself as ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’. Hillary Clinton, on any normal political spectrum, would be regarded as having a centre-right political ideology. But it is not uncommon to hear commentators and citizens alike using the term ‘socialist’ to describe her point of view. And I’m not just talking about Mark Levin or equally perverse ‘shock-jocks’ and fetishists. Mainstream media outlets like Fox News Channel (a channel which, incidentally, spends a lot of time criticising the ‘mainstream media’!) have regularly used terms like ‘socialist healthcare’, ‘socialised education’ and so on as a scare tactic. Actually, public health and education, free at the point of use, are generally accepted now as being good for society, good for business, good for the country. It’s the word ‘social’ which seems to scare people so much. all the while, the right is referred to as merely ‘conservative’.
Spain has had a left of centre government in power for the last four years and despite the PP-FAES-Libertad Digital-El Mundo alliance’s shrill warnings about ‘the end of Spain’, dark terrorist conspiracies and economic collapse, Spain seems to be doing OK. This is the reason why the PP rarely challenges the PSOE on any policy issue except when it touches on concepts of ‘national unity’ and alleged threats to tradition. Rather, they spend their time posturing and holding press conferences, much as they did when they were in power. Despite being from the ‘far left’, the country is doing fine. But I know that this is a story which won’t be told in the United States, where fear of a single word still dominates political discourse.
*Red Dawn – if you haven’t seen this film, try to download it or something. It’s a fiercely jingoistic anti-Soviet propaganda movie from about 1984 starring Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, and it recounts the events following a Soviet-Cuban invasion of the United States. I imagine it gave a lot of impressionable teenagers nightmares and a firm hatred of socialism, which was exactly its intention. It’s a pretty terrible film but also quite amusing in parts.
5 thoughts on “On the smudging of the political spectrum”
Nice post, well said. It’s one of the most impressive feats of the American mainstream media that they have managed to narrow the spectrum of political debate to the confines you describe. It’s no wonder people are confused. There are left-of-centre candidates standing in the American election such as Ron Paul but unlike Obama and Clinton, since he doesn’t court the same massive corporate interests that also own the media, there’s no way he can raise the same campaign funding or gain the same advertising exposure. As always, the American election is just one big PR contest between two sections of the right wing presided over by a servile corporate media.
Thanks. But I don’t agree that Ron Paul is left-of-centre. Actually, I consider him to be extremely right wing. He’s pro-gun, anti-choice, anti-state regulation of executions and education and he wants to reduce the money the government invests in health-care. he was against the Iraq war (as was Obama), but he is also in favour of quitting NATO and the UN. Well, I don’t much care for NATO, but the UN is something that needs to be fixed, not abandoned.
He has also made various statements on race and immigration which are – to say the least – questionable. Example: “No visas for students from terrorist nations”, which begs the question, what constitutes a ‘terrorist nation’? Probably not Saudi Arabia, right, Ron?
No, Ron Paul is, in my opinion, something of a madman who has managed to blind some on the left with his anti-war stance.
On the cold war issue, I’ve reached the conclusion that the end of it has created far more politicial orphans on the right than it has on the left – most of which had long since abandoned illusions in the USSR anyway. You see all these identikit blogs where people skip frantically from Cuba to North Korea to Iran to Venezuela in search of someone (anyone) who will fill the gap of being the great enemy for them. A section of the Spanish right who were obviously brought up on a diet of “rojos” and “progres” is attempting to join in. Alos, some of the worst in Spain (e.g. Losantos and Pio Moa) are those who were once to be found on the left. It’s as if they need to be more right wing than anyone else in order to prove themselves. Also, if you look at the variety of leftwing politics these people espoused it was normally the least tolerant, more stalinist brand – and it shows when they move to the right too.
Yes, excellent point. See also Nick Cohen who now writes almost exclusively pro-Tory articles for the repulsive Evening Standard and the Observer. He has spent the last three or four years constructing a new ideology for himself which allows for him to have completely reversed his position on practically everything he wrote previously. I was sucked in for about 10 minutes at one point.
Good points on Ron Paul. I wasn’t aware of his full background I just knew that he was for pulling the troops out of Iraq and was one of the ones blinded as you say. I guess there is no left of centre candidate standing then. Maybe Ralph Nader would have been but he’s not running this year.