US Politics Have No Left Wing

This is the first time that I’m aware of the US primary elections. I’ve never been very interested in the news, having at best a hazy idea even of Swedish politics. Blogging is entirely responsible for my heightened awareness of US political matters over the past two to three years. I’ve taken to reading US blogs and hanging out in web forums dominated by Americans. And what I’ve learned scares me.

US politics often look absurd from a European perspective, since the entire bipartisan system maps onto the conservative half of European politics. A case in point is that the US “Left” is called “the liberals”, while the Liberal Party in Sweden is part of the Right wing. How could it be otherwise? Liberalism is about free-market capitalism, small government, low taxes, all Right-wing ideals. Yes, both US parties advocate low taxes. Normal taxes are 30% to a Swede. And that’s rock bottom, before adding the effect of progressive taxation. That’s how we can afford universal health care. Hint, hint.

So, believe me, US politics don’t have a Left. Looking at the presidential candidates, I am frankly appalled. None of them would be a viable politician in Sweden. They all support the death penalty, none advocates strict gun control and all make frequent mention of their religious beliefs in public. These are extremist stances. Not even the tiny Christian Democrat party mentions God publicly in Sweden, for fear of alienating the pragmatic rationalist majority.

From a European perspective, US politics are an ongoing battle between the extreme Right and the middle Right. The Republican presidential candidates are really, really scary people in my view. So all of us in the world at large who live under the shadow of US political hegemony are holding our breaths, hoping that Clinton or Obama will make it into office. They’re pretty bad, but the alternative would be unspeakably dreadful.

Update 5 February: Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, chairman of the second-most conservative party in the Swedish Parliament, said today that he agrees with Barack Obama’s policies. This confirms what I said above very nicely. One of the most conservative viable politicians in Sweden is apparently on the same page as one of the most progressive US presidential candidates.

Blog reactions: Pharyngula, Uncertain Principles, PhysioProf, ~C4Chaos, Anthology of Ideas, Chymico-Physico Elucidations, Shaman Sun, Questionable Authority, Evolving Thoughts, Quaint Recusant, Awesome Title for a Blog, Lakeshore, Too many topics, too little time, Unfiltered Perception, Daily Awesome, Crimes & Corruption, Khannea, Stemmetje, Liberté, égalité, fraternité Remote Central.

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281 thoughts on “US Politics Have No Left Wing

  1. “The US is also more culturally pluralist and tolerant than Europe. The US congress does not consider bans on headscarves and minaret construction as some of their counterparts have done. European Muslims languish in ghettos…”

    You know, it’s easy to forget that American exceptionalism – the belief in the innate moral superiority of the United States – is spread right across the political spectrum.

    * Hüseyin Kenan Aydın is a Labour and Social Justice Party MP in Germany
    * Baron Ahmed – Member of the House of Lords (UK)
    * Dr. Lale Akgün is the SPD MP for Cologne (Germany)
    * Nebahat Albayrak is the Labour Party State Secretary for the Ministry of Justice in the Netherlands.
    * Waheed Alli, Baron Alli – Politician, Labour peer, media mogul, and one of the few openly gay Muslims in public life anywhere in the world
    * Emine Bozkurt is the Labour Party MP representing the Netherlands in the European Parliament.
    * Sevim Dağdelen is the Left Party MP for Duisburg (Germany)
    * Rachida Dati, French justice minister
    * Ekin Deligöz is a Green Party MP in Germany

    * Professor Dr. Hakkı Keskin is a Left Party MP for Hamburg (Germany). He is a a professor of Political Science and was the first person of Turkish descent to become a member of a the German parliament.
    * Zalmay Khalilzad – Current US Ambassador to Iraq. Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan
    * Sadiq Khan is the Labour MP for Tooting (UK)
    * Khalid Mahmood is the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Bar (UK)
    * Shahid Malik is the Labour MP for Dewsbury (UK)
    * Vural Öger is a SDP MP representing Germany for the European Parliament.
    * Cem Özdemir is a Green Party MP representing Germany in the European Parliament.
    * Mohammad Sarwar is the Labour MP for Glasgow Central (UK)
    * Sayeeda Warsi is the Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party (UK)
    * Manzila Uddin, Baroness Uddin – Peer in the UK

    I edited this list slightly to remove non-Europeans. There two American and two Australians. Australia has around 1/15th the population of the US and a smaller percentage of Muslims.

    At this point, having pointed out that it is possible that the US is not superior to every other country in the world in every single way, I will of course be denounced as an anti-American bigot. 9-11 may get a mention.


  2. I’m fascinated how religious persecution in 19th century Sweden is apparently a perfectly fair and valid basis on which to attack modern-day Sweden.

    Now about those slaves you Americans used to own…


  3. “This happens when you try to engage a rifle-armed enemy with melee weapons. The same thing happened to the British when they tried to charge the Boers with bayonets. In such cases, you are a victim of dumb leaders and officers, not a victim of genocide.”

    I see, so when Teddy Roosevelt and McKinley defended wiping out entire villages they were lying?


  4. My last post was a case of shooting from the lip.

    I was using the Moro Massacre as short hand for the entire Filipino campaign and was remiss in not reading Johannes’ post correctly.

    Sorry Johannes.


  5. “We don’t have millions if immigrants because of our lack of freedoms.” GOP

    There are more immigrants in the EU than in the US.


  6. >>”Doesn’t Switzerland have the highest murder rates in Europe?”

    > Homicide rate in Finnish Lapland higher than in Central Africa

    Finland indeed has a high rate of private gun ownership – huge quantities of Russian and German equipment were captured by what was, pound per pound, perhaps the best army in the world at the time, and much ended up in private hands. It also has a very high homicide rate for a protestant country without a culture of honor. There is, however, no connection between the high rate of gun ownership and the high homicidal rate. The average Finnish homicide happens when drunken people stab or batter each other to death. As everyone reasonably acquainted with the iconography of the Russian revolution (Lenin on an armoured car, Trotski on an armoured train, etc.) knows, a Moisin-Nagant is a notoriously unwieldy weapon. You don’t carry it around with you if you go on a drinking bout.


  7. Martin is not Swiss. He’s Swedish, as am I. Don’t blame us for the Swiss, please (having said that, I have nothing against Swiss people except for maybe one or two of their past political leaders – I am, however, very fed up with continuously being mixed up with them.) Having lived in several countries, I agree 100% with Maritn’s post. No matter how much you say you’re left wing in North America, you’re still positioned to the right of the Europeans, and I miss the value I got for my Swedish taxes (which, at this point, were no higher than what I pay here, but get much less for).


  8. I for one am thankfull that we don’t have viable leftist (by the European definition) parties here in the states. I’m registered Democrat and I’m quite liberal (in the US sense anyway) on social issues (gay rights, abortion, death penalty, gun control) but am also quite fiscally conservative (imagine my dismay for the past 8 years!!). Foreign policy is more complex, as you have interventionist Dems and Repubs, and isolationist Dems and Repubs. I’m not strictly in either corner, but lean isolationist.

    On balance, that makes me a moderate, or center-left here in the states (depending on how you weight the various issues). In Europe, no doubt I’d be center-right. So be it. This isn’t Europe, for better or worse. I do despair at times, sure. The day after the 2004 election was very, very dark.

    It’s all well and good that Sweden is doing things its way. It’s an example of what socialism can do. Bravo. We’re an experiment of another sort, and there are some key differences between our nations. Size (both geographical and by population), ethnic/cultural diversity, history (big one, that), and of course religion.

    Anyway, enjoy your smug superiority. You’re welcome to it.


  9. If you read the blog entry again, you may understand that I am not feeling smugly superior. I’m fucking scared. Because your opinions are not very common in the US.


  10. i’m glad i’m not the only person to come to this particular conclusion (that there is no political left in the USA). i agree with a few of the earlier posters that American leftism has been dead at least since, and possibly due to, the McCarthyist purges. (i wasn’t alive then, so i’m going on what i’ve read of history here.)

    a number of other bloggers have opined that the political center in the USA has been drifting rightwards for quite a while, due to concerted framing efforts on the republicans’ behalf. i think this, too, is likely to be true. i’ve seen the tactic in use in practice — propose something utterly ludicrously extremist, fight for it tooth and nail, grudgingly accept defeat after the democrats are near exhausted, then propose something only merely extremist and pass it easily. next year, take that latter extremism as what’s always been true and accepted, and repeat with “extremism” redefined even further rightwards.

    in fact, after having lived here as a European expatriate these past nine years, my only real beef with the original article’s points is about gun control. i’ve begun to think that the USA might actually have that point right, after all. the states can be a dangerous place to live, true enough, but i really don’t think it’s because American civilians are trusted to own guns. they’d be a dangerous bunch even if you put ’em all in straitjackets, and they tend to act MORE recklessly whenever one patronizes them for their own good.

    (i’d point to U.S. legislative developments over the past twenty years or so, as more and more states have made access to firearms easier to get by the law-abiding, without any discernible effect on crime or accidental death rates. but that’s U.S.-centric law geek eggheadedness to the rest of the world, so i shan’t bore y’all.)


  11. I agree with the author. The american left, the liberals, are still right looking in from the outside. None of the parties are advocating a large public sector or socialism in any sense. Not saying this is a negative thing. I myself is a firm believer in liberal ideals and market economy.


  12. > i agree with a few of the earlier posters that American
    > leftism has been dead at least since, and possibly due to,
    > the McCarthyist purges.

    What most posters consider leftism or socialism here is essentially social democratism. Most European social democrats of the early cold war years hated the stalinists just as much as McCarthy (Joseph – Mary McCarthy hated stalinism, too, but that’s another story) did. After all, they had experienced the period of ultra-leftism in the late twenties and early thirties, when Stalin considered the social democrats rather than the fascists the main enemy, the Hitler-Stalin pact and, in the case of Scandinavia, the Winter War, when Sweden was at the brink of open warfare with the Soviet Union. Unlike the amateur McCarthy, however, they were professionals, so they used the police, the secret services and the courts to harass communists, not drunken rants and smear campaigns.
    Whatever might have been the reason that Western Europe – with the possible exception of thatcherist Great Britain – tried to retain the post-war welfare state with varying degrees of success even after the collapse of fordism in the mid-to late seventies, while the US abandoned it – cold-war anticommunism is not to blame.
    Anti-communism and the welfare state went together just fine in the fifties and sixties.


  13. I think that Magaret Thatcher (UK conservative prime minister) summed it up best at a Republican national convention.

    In the UK we have two parties: one you would call the communist party and the other you would call the communist party.

    This illustrates just how skewed to the right the whole of the US system is. Even what every one else calls right wing the US refers to as communism (ie extreme left)


  14. Just as you can say that there is no real leftwing in America, you could with the same logic say that there is no real rightwing in Sweden.

    But for some reason I don´t think Martin or other swedish leftists would agree with that notion.


  15. “The reason we’re fine with the government taking our money is that the government is us.”

    Uh.. no. First of all, not all swedes are fine with the government taking our money. And amongst those that claim they are fine with it, a huge portion do all they can to cheat the taxauthorities, by working black themselves, hiring black workforce etc. So in other words, most swedes are nothing more then hypocrites that needs to come down from their high horses.

    Second, the governemt is not “us”, they are the elite, the “upper class” of our society if you prefer. Just as an example, ask Martin how the daughter of the new socialdemocratic party´s leader Mona Sahlin got her placement at the Washington Embassy two years ago..


  16. Marcus, when you speak of “hiring black workforce” in the presence of an American audience, you really need to explain you’re speaking of under-the-table, black-market labour. you could be misunderstood in several highly offensive ways… which, ironically, would smear you with prejudices the political right wing in the USA is also often smeared with.


  17. I feel that the US election is like a compilation of I Love Lucy, South Park, Rambo and Dumb and Dumber. I am waiting for Barack to come-back to Hillary with “Hillary, you ignorant slut”!!! MY GOD, IS THIS THE BEST (Y)OUR COUNTRY HAS TO OFFER! AND MCCAIN???? You almost want to give him the presidency ’cause he has tried so loooong to get it AND…he was a POW!


  18. Music says it all!!! US rap sounds like one continuous bitching session but Swedish pop is “happy music”! thank god, when I am in the USA, I do have satellite so “Svenska Favoriter” is always with me!!!


  19. Jeg elske Sverige!!!


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  22. pitifully weak in your attempt at trying without success to define what left is. However, you have failed to see with your blinders on something much more important and beyond liberalism…the new groups that fall under the “well armed ultra left wing Constitutionalists”…and they rare talk, whine, or complain…they have been and now continuing on with handling what takes place in almost every post war environment…


  23. You don’t understand the history of the “Liberal” label in the US. It originally meant the same thing as it does in Europe and the rest of the world – “free markets, free minds”. It was stolen by the Progressives in the early 20th century. See my post:

    BTW – I’m both a Conservative and an Atheist. You lefties have a bad habit of stereotyping.


  24. The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.
                — Hannah Arendt

    That being said, to you, Euro-trash: “Not to the Left, not to the Right, but square in the middle can you kiss my a__.”


  25. Our parties are all talk and once they get into office they do tend to follow their ideologies. But once election season rolls around, they go “moderate” because most of the American public (about 60%) identifies moderate, or swinging from between the Democrats and Republicans. It may seem like we have a lot of whack job-conservatives and this is because we do! But we also have crazy liberals. It’s just conservatives tend to say and do things more provocative because they realize they’re losing political power (mainly ever since the religious right). Extremists think they are right and everyone else is wrong, but moderates tend to mull over the information given to them from SEVERAL sources, not biased single sources like that abomination Fox News. We’re tending toward left-wing policies as the old white farts die off.


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