Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

Where is the Left At? – United States

After discussing the left in Australia I now turn towards the United States and have a look at where I see the left stands in one of the most influential countries in the world. The left is definitely on the rise in the United States and is growing stronger every year. Both in legislative and issue based politics it is clear that the left is gaining strength and will continue to do so in the future.

Legislative

Unlike Australia where the left is split between two parties in the country, the left in the United States almost solely focuses its efforts into the Democratic Party. This is due to the extremely strong two party nature of the American system and although parties such as the Greens and other minor left parties are growing slightly, they still have very little influence beyond local elections. This is unfortunately likely to continue to occur as it is extremely unlikely that we will see a change in the American political system that would provide more opportunities for third parties. Therefore, in legislative matters one can measure the current success of the left through (a) looking at the success of the Democratic Party and (b) looking at how left the Democrats have become.

The Democratic Party: The Democrats are currently probably stronger than they have been since the 1960s. The party currently holds control over the Presidency, the Senate (by 18 seats), the House of Representatives (by 79 seats), the majority of state legislatures and the majority of governorships (28-22). With many problems with Senate and Gubernatorial races and a growing approval rate of the Congress in the United States it seems unlikely that this trend will change in the 2010 elections and it is even possible that the Democrats will increase their legislative majorities.

However, having the Democrats in power across the United States does not necessarily mean that the US is a ‘left wing’ country. Just like the Labor Party in Australia there are large and continuing battles within the Democrats between the right and left wing factions of the party. Although the right factions of the Democrats are nowhere near as right wing as their conservative counterparts in the Republicans, they are still far to the right of what the left wants in the Party. So, going beyond asking the question of how the Democratic Party is doing in the United States, one must look at how the left is doing in the Democratic Party. This is an issue that is a lot harder to investigate (as one must have a better knowledge of the respective members in the party); however there are definitely encouraging signs:

  1. The party has definitely moved far away from some of its extremely conservative roots (based around the South in early and mid 20th Century) and has pretty much shed the majority of the extreme conservatives from its membership.
  2. Some of the lefter members of the party are now reaching much higher positions than in the past. For example, whilst leadership positions used to be reserved for conservatives from the South, the leadership in the House of Representatives now consists of Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank; two who are both considered to be in the left ‘faction’ of the party.
  3. Candidates who are further to the right in the party are now finding it more difficult to get a hold within the parties structure and are being shunned somewhat. One only needs to look at the rise of Kirstin Gillibrand to the New York Senate and the many promises that a primary challenge (which would most likely succeed) after it occurred as evidence of this.

However, this does not necessarily mean that US legislators are just as left as their left counterparts around the world as due to the historic right wing nature of American Politics, the left wing in the United States is still not as left as is seen by left wing parties in other parts of the world.

However, it is clear that the US and the Democrats have taken a left turn in the past 5 or so years and the question then must be, do the American people like and accept this lefter turn from the party? One must assume that with the massive victories of the Democrats, which have been created by these ‘lefter’ candidates, over the past two election cycles and the probably victories in 2010 that the answer to this is a yes. With increasing Democratic Registrations, along with decreasing Republican ones and an increasing number of people identifying themselves as ‘liberal’ or ‘extremely liberal’ it is clear that people are becoming more accepting of the left movement. Why and how this has happened is definitely a topic for another post. However, what is certain about this is that it is creating a stronger acceptance of such left shifts as health care reform, gay and women’s rights reform, climate change action etc. Although many of these such reforms have been attempted by Democrats in the past (i.e. Bill Clinton and health care), with the much stronger left wing presence in the house and senate at the moment such reforms are much more likely at the current time.  

Moving Beyond the Legislature

Of course, the left does not just exist within the halls of the legislature and the party room and the different left movements that exist around the country definitely require some mention. Just like the rest of the world, the left pressure movement in the US can be separated into broader umbrella groups and more issue focused groups. On the broader scale one can look at organisations such as MoveOn.org  as probably the strongest and largest growing left wing political pressure group in the country. Regarding information based sites; the numbers of left blog sites in the United States is huge, with site such as The Daily Kos, providing a great example of how these sites can continue to push left thought. It is interesting to note that just like GetUp in Australia, these groups are benefiting greatly through their use of the internet, an issue that continue to plague the right in the United States.

On the issue based politics, one can definitely see major continued growth occurring in the climate, gay rights, women’s, union, immigration and many other left based movements within the United States. Many of these movements are now seeing major victories in the country(for example gay marriage victories in a number of states and the first substantial climate based legislation being introduced into Congress in the past weeks) after what has been some very difficult years for these movements. However, just like the rest of the world there is the continued question of how to bring these movements together to provide a stronger and more united left wing movement. This is not something that I have time to go into on this post however.

I hope this has given a good overview, although very brief, of where the left is positioned in the United States at the moment. I appreciate that I will have left a lot of things out of this post, but will hope to begin filling in these gaps in the future as I continue to discuss the forward movement of the left in the United States.  

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April 25, 2009 - Posted by | Analysing the Left | , , ,

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