In fact, the Republican party once had a liberal (i.e., left) faction. No more. In 1996 arch-conservative Barry Goldwater reportedly wondered in amazement that he and presidential candidate Bob Dole were by then on the left of the Republican party. Goldwater died in 1998; both parties have since moved much farther to the right. Today, Goldwater would be considered left even for a Democrat.
Over the past forty years America has become much more politically correct with regard to gender and sexualiy. Men do not openly display calendars featuring topless models on their office walls, and public gay bashing is now considered inappropriate, even in Republican circles. But gender and sexuality are issues that transcend social class. Even rich, powerful men have gay children -- or may be gay themselves. Even rich, powerful men have wives.
On every other issue America -- or at least American politics -- has swung violently to the right. The more social class is involved, the further to the right America has swung. Poverty was once a social disease to be cured; it is now an individual crime to be punished. Put it down to individualism, conservatism, neoliberalism, or whatever -ism you want, America is now the world's greatest reactionary force.
Unfortunately, all the evidence is that the rest of the world is following America down the road to perdition. Nowhere are national health-insurance schemes, access to free education, and old-age pensions being expanded. Nowhere is the world moving forward. Everywhere the social gains of the twentieth century are either being eroded or destroyed.
flickr image by EricMagnuson
The mid-late twentieth century may or may not turn out to have been the high point of human civilization. Progress may yet return. But if it does, it will not be led by the United States. It will be resisted by the United States. It's up to the rest of the world to provide the hope for the future that once emanated from Washington, New York, and California. Otherwise you will become just like us.
NOTE: This article originally appeared in Australian Options magazine. It is reproduced here with permission.