My start in American politics occurred 50 years ago this month, in December 1971, when on winter break from law school I volunteered for the incipient (and ultimately doomed) presidential campaign of George McGovern. My political views then — to grossly simplify them — were that I was against the Vietnam War and the military-industrial complex, strongly supportive of civil rights and voting rights, and against the power of big corporations.
At that time, compared with today, the political spectrum running from left to right was short. (See my diagram, just below.) The left was demonstrating against the Vietnam War, sometimes violently. I was committed to ending it through peaceful political means, which was why I supported McGovern. The “right” included liberal Republicans (yes, there really were some) such as Nelson Rockefeller, who would be Gerald Ford’s vice president three years later.
The American political spectrum over the last 50 years and my position on it (inspired by a tweet by Colin Wright).
Twenty-five years later, I was in Bill Clinton’s cabinet, and the political spectrum from left to right was much longer. The biggest change was how much further right the right had moved — due both to Ronald Reagan and to corporate and Wall Street money bankrolling right-wing candidates and messages. Bill Clinton sought to govern from the “center” (he famously “triangulated”). But the “center” had moved so far right that Clinton ended welfare, cracked down on crime, and deregulated Wall Street. All of which put me further to the left of center — although I had barely changed my political views at all.
Which brings me to today, when the spectrum from left to right is the longest it’s been in my 50 years in and around politics. Despite all the howls from the right about “cancel culture” and “woke-ness” on the left, I don’t think the left has moved much from where it was a half-century ago. Nor, frankly, have I. But the right has moved far, far rightward. Donald Trump brought America about as close as we’ve ever come to fascism. He incited an attempted coup against the United States. To this day, he and most of the Republican Party continue to deny that he lost the 2020 election. And they are getting ready to suppress votes and disregard voting outcomes they disagree with.
At this rate, I can’t help but wonder where the “center” will be twenty-five years from now. What do you think?