The crazies from the left and the right meet in the middle
By Lucas Roebuck
We often like to think of modern American politics as a line, sort of a spectrum from the extreme left to the extreme right. This simple model helps us understand and relate to each other politically but perhaps is lacking in the complexity needed to explain some political realities.
A circle has often been proposed as a better figure to model American politics. In a political circle, where you fall in the circle on the x axis can be described in the familiar liberal/conservative dichotomy. Where you fall on the y axis, however, describes where you fall on the governance level spectrum. The lower (or more negative) your y value, the more you believe that government should be involved in individual life. The higher or more positive your y value is, the more you believe that individual freedom supersedes the benefits of governance.
So the extreme libertarians are anarchists, and their polar opposites would be totalitarians. In essence, as you approach the apex of the circle from the right, you have your anti-all tax, government conspiracy nuts; and as you approach the top of the circle from the left, you have your screw-the-man, government-industrial complex antiestablishment free-love free-drugs anarchist-hippies. This circle model explains why in the 2008 presidential primaries, many Democrats really liked the sound of Republicanlibertarian Ron Paul.
On the bottom of the circle, you have theocrats and security hawks as you approach the base from the right; and you'll find social engineers and communist academics (who know so much more than you do) as you bottom out from the left. In a way, both ends of the circle are unhealthy and usually result in abuse. Anarchy is the result of the abuse of freedom; totalitarian oppression is the result of the abuse of governance.
Certainly, in freedom-loving America, the circle is topheavy. That's not to say we don't have our fair share of security hawks and government nannies weighting the circle down. The interesting phenomenon that helps balance out America's strong libertarian streak is that once in power, politicians are more likely to move down the circle than up it no matter what hemisphere they reside on.
Consider President Barack Obama. His recent breaks from his campaign rhetoric to basically adopt the Bush policy of military tribunals for war on terror detainees in the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base have infuriated civil libertarians. Many of them voted for Obama because they thought he would reverse the Bush policies, unlike Obama's opponent, Sen. John McCain, who during the election wanted to close Guantanamo, but use military tribunals to deal with the detainees, not treat them like common criminals.
I'm curious how the Obama-supporting libertarians occupying the upper-left portion of the quadrant feel about his new Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, who agreed that the government can seize land from one private owner via the power of eminent domain and give it to another private owner simply because the new owner will pay more taxes. I know many of them are already getting queasy over Obama's government takeovers of many private businesses in the automotive and banking sectors.
Political pandering to the top of the political circle is known as populism, which Obama and his team did a superb job of during the campaign. If popular votes are any indication, Obama drew a huge number of upper-right quadrant dwellers into the upper-left quadrant. It's very possible that Obama's margin of victory is summed up in this leftward shift.
But we are only half a year into the Obama administration, and Obama has already taken not just a sharp jump to the left, but also a sharp dive down toward the base of the political circle.
The further he moves toward totalitarian government control, the more Obama's charisma and gravitas lose a grip on those in the northern hemisphere of the political circle.