My wife was startled one evening, in England, when she heard a BBC announcer describe the US as "the most right-wing nation in the world." That may be a bit of hyperbole, since there are absolute monarchies like Saudi Arabia, theocracies like Iran, and military dictatorships like Burma/Myanmar that would be described as more right wing still.
However, the BBC announcer's claim should tell us something about ourselves. After all, the UK is not a wildly left wing or radical country. The Labor Party has controlled the government for years, it is true, but that party has become very moderate, almost conservative, with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as leaders. In fact, Blair suffered by being our closest ally in our misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another scene my wife recounted from the British "telly" is even more telling: BBC was airing a program on Sex Education for adolescents. The female journalist was shown in the stirrups, having a gynecological exam, telling girls they should have them regularly. The program also showed a succession of vaginas and penises (on screen!), demonstrating how the tests for STD's were conducted. Finally, the program urged all men and women to use "con-doms."
And we have Sarah Palin advocating "Abstinence Only" sex-ed, which was obviously such a success with her eldest daughter! I saw somewhere else that the US has the highest rate of teen pregnancy of any developed country, and no wonder!
Of course the Brits have had universal health care ("socialized medicine!") since the 1940's, which may be why their health statistics are a lot better than ours.
But that's just health care. What about percentages imprisoned? With the likely exception of China, the US has the highest rate of imprisonment by far: 738 per 100,000. Britain, by contrast, has 139, Australia 179, Norway 59 and China claims only 111 per 100,000. (Figures from Wikipedia), The latter claim is probably way off (it could be twice the US figure), but China is an authoritarian party state just emerging from revolution and extreme poverty. The claim, however, is revealing: China wants to appear civilized, like Britain or Norway, not draconian like the US, which claims to champion "freedom."
It is also revealing of the mindset of political figures in Washington, that when faced with a crisis, the initial, instinctive, response is for the executive to demand authoritarian powers. That's what Bush did with the War Authorization Act, and Congress caved into his demand. He did it with the Patriot Act, as well.
And now, through Secretary Paulson, he demands it again, this time to establish an authority to buy and sell financial instruments to the tune of $700 billion (or more). Paulson demanded unilateral authority, specifically excluding oversight by either Congress or the judiciary, and insisting that executive compensation of Wall Street firms should not even be discussed. He's a former head of Goldman Sachs, after all.
After what looked like an initial acceptance by Congressional movers and shakers, wiser heads began to protest, thank god, and perhaps they will prevail. However, the Paulson-Bush "solution" reflects, still, the right wing mindset of this country. Initially, it completely ignored the home mortgages themselves. The program was Wall Street-centric, designed to buy bad debt from the big financial players, which had been leveraged hundreds of times beyond the value of the underlying mortgages upon which they were supposed to be based. Lost in this scenario was any consideration of the millions of people who are losing their homes, or are in danger of losing them. Only the wealthy (speculators) seemed to count.
Again, pressure from Democrats and even Republicans in Congress may yet broaden the program to safeguard homeowners, and there is an emerging consensus, despite Paulson's objections to the contrary, to prevent high officials in the affected firms from walking away with huge profits, or golden parachutes. Obama makes a persuasive case for more regulation, but even McCain tries to say more is needed; he just doesn't have much credibility there, since he's always promoted deregulation and "free markets."
Perhaps the financial crisis will lead the US in a more moderate direction.
A lot depends upon whom we elect in the coming election. For example, the US used to lead in progressive policy on education, but does no longer. Obama proposes more money, and Democrats would probably modify the No Child Left Behind Act, "Obama and Biden will also improve NCLB's accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them." McCain, on the other hand, would like to privatize education, as evidenced by his voucher and "freedom of choice" education plans.
Which brings up the whole thrust towards privatization. The US has been pushing privatization around the world and here at home, a "right wing policy" if ever there was one. Privatized schools, privatized prisons, privatized highway construction, privatized welfare administration, privatized armies, and even privatized intelligence and foreign policy administration. It is a right wing principle that private business can do anything better than government, which has played out to its logical conclusion in the financial crisis: firms were allowed to maximize profits regardless of the consequences--
Until now we have to bail them out, or, at least bail out the economy, to the tune of over a trillion dollars.
Actually, we shouldn't bail out the speculators, that is--we should insure homeowners and ensure that the high-flyers pay the costs of the financial crisis, or at least don't benefit one penny from it. But that's another article.
Perhaps we won't end up being such a right wing country, after all.