It's a sad commentary on the ideological breadth of American politics that people accuse the Democratic Party of being Marxists, socialists, or any equivalent thereof. Granted, most of the people applying those labels haven't the slightest idea what they mean – Commies are the bad guys in Red Dawn, right? – but regardless of the proper term there is little doubt that Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi are indeed leftist zealots…in America, anyway.
The fact remains that American politics is slanted so far to the right that our "liberals" and "conservatives" are unrecognizable to most of the democratic world. To some extent this is an artifact of the two-party system (Thanks, Duverger's Law!) in comparison to multi-party systems. The latter tend to keep some of the crazy out of the major parties by providing electoral incentives to small parties. Countries like Italy, for example, have proportional systems that practically beg for minor parties to form. We also have a far more extreme brand of Christianity intertwined with our politics; many countries are highly religious but not many countries have Southern Baptists. The end result is that the Democratic Party is a socialist conspiracy in the U.S. but would barely qualify as a mainstream conservative party elsewhere. The Republicans would be a fringe nationalist party in most of Europe or Asia…and we have an active splinter group trying to drive them further to the right.
Take a look at the new British PM David Cameron. He is:
2. About as far left on the environment as any American liberal
3. Candid about his limited interest in religion ("I believe in God and I try to get to church more than Christmas and Easter, but perhaps not as often as I should, but I don't feel I have a direct line.")
4. Open about the fact that taxes can't be cut during fiscal emergencies ("I don't think it's sensible today to write a Conservative budget for 2009 or 2010, with specific pledges on tax reduction.")
5. Opposed to capital punishment
6. A supporter of the National Health Service (which even Thatcher couldn't touch)
7. Staunchly opposed to far-right proposals for National ID cards, describing them as ineffective and in violation of basic human rights
Sure, there's a healthy dose of economic conservatism – free market this, deregulation that – to remind voters that Cameron is in fact representing the party of St. Margaret. I'm not arguing that he is not a true Conservative. The point is simply that British Tories are as liberal, if not moreso, than the average American Democrat. Given how completely the Democrats have surrendered on New Deal economic liberalism to basically reinvent themselves as the party of Reaganomics Lite, one might be hard-pressed to point out the significant differences between that party and the British Tories. David Cameron wouldn't simply be a liberal in the American context, he'd be a member of the loony left. No death penalty? Not a churchgoer? Pro Choice? Someone get a rope, we've found a witch.
It must be nice to live in a system in which even the conservatives are inclined toward common sense. As easy as it is for political elites and activists to browbeat the Democrats into moving further and further to the right with every election, it's no wonder that our conservatives are absolutely bonkers and the Democrats are barely able to call themselves centrists. That Barack Obama is a pinko commie Marxist socialist to much of this country proves that Americans will repeat anything they hear on AM radio and that our party system has the ideological diversity of an NRA meeting in Abilene, Texas.