Watch as the November elections approach and try to convince us of the vast difference between the philosophies of the candidates and of their parties. We, as voters, tell each other and are told that our collective fate as citizens depends on how we vote. Politicians propose that should we, the people, choose the other party, we will live beneath the fallout of that choice until a new election allows us a chance to correct our mistake. There is a chasm between the parties, we tell each other, and the stakes could not be higher. However, the rhetoric from Republicans and Democrats that tries to separate the nation and arouse ill-will is vastly overblown. The political system of the United States is actually very centrist as a whole.
Consider the two extremes of the Liberal/Conservative dichotomy: Socialism and Libertarianism. The easiest, and somewhat oversimplified, definition of Socialism is the nationalization of the means of production and distribution. This would give the federal government ownership of things such as factories, coal mines, oil and gas reserves, rail and trucking systems, any ways in which goods are manufactured and delivered. In a Socialist society, in theory, the economy would be controlled so as to prevent large amounts of wealth from being accumulated. It would also prevent mass unemployment, or abject poverty.
Libertarianism is built around the idea that the individual is sovereign. Libertarianism claims that government intervention is an act of violence, and is therefore unacceptable as a means of regulating the affairs of human beings. In a Libertarian society, the only function of government is to guard against attacks of body or property. All other regulations economic, moral, or otherwise, are considered oppressive and violent in nature. Furthermore, Libertarianism argues that a truly free-market capitalism would lead to the creation of more goods and services at more efficient prices. This would see those goods and services distributed more evenly among people, thus reducing the gap between rich and poor. The increase in efficiency and production, coupled with the work of labor unions and other voluntary means of organization, would also eliminate extreme poverty and mass unemployment, according to the Libertarian doctrine.
These two extremes, however, are found in the major parties of the U.S. only as remnants of arguments long since abandoned for a more tolerable, and electable, centrism. (I will add here that there are, of course, active Socialist and Libertarian parties in the U.S., but neither is considered politically significant outside of their candidates.) Democrats may demand windfall taxes on oil companies, but that is very far from nationalizing the oil industry. Republicans are always preaching lower taxes, but do not approach anything resembling a Libertarian economy of zero intervention and minute government. Democrats’ proposal to tax the wealthy is nothing more than capitalism twisted. And Republicans have shown themselves just as willing to shun an actual free-market philosophy. Instead, they also embrace economic interventions.
Both parties have agreed to accept a status quo of a society that floats somewhere between Capitalism and Socialism. Democrats and Republicans quibble over the extent and exact methods of regulation, but neither is calling for an overhaul of the economy in the United States, even at their most extreme. These two parties, which put forth such effort to paint their distance as far apart as the Atlantic and the Pacific, are actually nothing more than bookends viewed too closely. Take a few steps back from the fear and bitterness and their similarity becomes clear.
Matthew Palmer is a graduate rhetoric and composition student from Tempe, Ariz.