When freshman representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described the Democratic Party as a “center or center conservative party” in October of 2019, it caused a firestorm of controversy. Individuals on the right and left alike could not imagine how a political party which has historically been portrayed as having liberal or left wing positions could possibly be defined as conservative. However, a look at the international political spectrum reveals a different reality. While the Democratic Party does occupy the center left to left of American politics, this is only because the American political spectrum is significantly to the right of the governments of most developed countries.
The right-wing ideological orientation of the United States is evident in the discourse surrounding numerous political issues. Perhaps the most notable of these issues is healthcare since both major parties cannot agree on a plan to extend universal health coverage to all of the nation’s citizens. While the Republican Party supports policies that would eliminate existing healthcare coverage for vulnerable groups, the mainstream of the Democratic Party supports an agenda of piecemeal healthcare reform that requires citizens to continue to pay out-of-pocket expenses to private insurers. This stands in stark contrast to most industrialized nations such as those in Europe, Canada, and Japan where most mainstream politicians support a single-payer, national healthcare system which covers most medical expenses and procedures.
America is also to the right of other nations in terms of wages. While most developed countries such as France, the UK and Australia have a minimum wage commission to ensure that the minimum wage consistently increases on an annual basis, America has difficulty increasing its minimum wage at all, and has not done so since establishing the starvation wage of $7.25 per hour in 2009. While the Democratic Party supports a one-time increase in the minimum wage, it has no plan to establish a mechanism that would allow it to increase with inflation (Vox). Even worse, the Republican Party refuses to discuss raising the minimum wage at all.
America’s poor investments in higher education also reflect its conservative ideological orientation. Many developed nations recognize that in order to have a strong and competitive workforce, free higher education must be available to all students by making public colleges tuition free. Not the United States! Two-year community colleges are relatively inexpensive, but public colleges and universities remain expensive for many American families. While the Democratic Party supports making public colleges and universities tuition free for the vast majority of individuals, Republicans seem to oppose any attempt to make college more affordable.
Finally, the American discourse surrounding climate change reflects the right wing ideology of the United States. For example, the Republican Party refuses to acknowledge the reality of climate change, a position that is not even held by many conservatives parties internationally.
While there is nothing wrong with using words such as conservative and liberal or right and left as a shorthand to refer to the policies of United States political parties, Americans should be aware of how far to the right both political factions lie in a global context. While it is hard to give a concrete reason for this right wing orientation, a possible explanation is the role that racial and cultural divisions play in American politics. In America, racism is often weaponized to divide people and prevent them from uniting to support initiatives that would benefit most citizens. It may also be a result of the particularly strong fear in America that any government intercession in the economy is somehow a form of communism. Regardless of the reason, what should be clear to Americans is that something isn’t right.