The terms Right and Left have been increasingly been used in American politics. These terms are used to generally define politicians, commentators, the media and others involved in all manners of political discourse in recent years. It is as if a person's or even a movement's whole character, belief system and even agenda can be identified by labeling them either "Right" or "Left." But, what do these terms really mean?
Right wing has generally been used to describe talk radio hosts, the Tea Party, militias and other extremists. The media has effectively portrayed the Right as those who obstruct progress, are racists, pro-gun nuts and uneducated. The Left has become known as the Democrats, progressives, open-minded, politically correct, tolerant of others and academics.
In reality, Right and Left can be used to describe one's views toward the relationship between the American citizen and the government.
The terms "right" and "left" originally started during the French Revolution in 1789. Then, members of the National Assembly who were supporters of the king sat on the right and the opposition sat on the left of the chamber. Left and right began to be used to describe specific ideologies.
There were several political shifts between right, center and left until in the early 1900's the left consisted of the Unified Socialists, Republican Socialists and Socialist Radicals, while the parties that were called "left" now sat on the right side. Those on the right were more traditionalists and believed in private property and an economy free from government regulation.
If one were to construct a diagram of the political spectrum, the extreme Left would equate to total government control over every aspect of the lives of the citizens. This would include taxation and the distribution of wealth, industry and the means of production, healthcare and education, to name a few (watch the video).
The extreme Right would be anarchy with no government at all. The more that government controls in the economy, education and our private lives, society moves further to the left along the political spectrum. The more personal freedom, private property rights and less government control there is in the private lives of the citizen, society moves further to the right.
Historical examples of extreme left wing governments include the communist Soviet Union, Mao Tse Tung's communist China, Pol Pot in Cambodia and Nazi Germany. When the government has control over the means of production, all distribution and application of social services and a uniformity of political ideology, it is extreme left wing. Socialism, fascism and communism are all examples of leftist ideologies.
The more extreme left a government is, the less respect it has for the individual citizen and for private property. Karl Marx succinctly explained in the Communist Manifesto, "In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property."
The United States is continually moving further and further left. The government controls education and access to education through the nationalization of student loans. With the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare", the federal government controls access to health insurance and for the first time makes the mandatory purchase of a product a precondition for citizenship. Massive regulations from government agencies such as the EPA control everything from waterways and wetlands (even those on private property) to all aspects of domestic energy production. The federal government is implementing standards for school lunches and the president is seeking to control all preschool for children as young as four.
Another pillar of communism is a heavy progressive or graduated income tax. Currently, in accordance with the 73,954 pages of the US tax code, the top 10% of earners pay more than 70% of all federal income taxes. The bottom 40% pay no income tax at all. The Framers of the Constitution were against any taxes on income and it took the 16th Amendment in 1913 to empower the government to collect taxes on anyone's income.
By contrast, the Founding Fathers and the Framers of the Constitution would be called Right Wing today. While recognizing the necessity of having a government that performs certain functions on behalf of the citizens, the Founders believes in the powers of government being limited and allowed for maximum personal freedom.
To satisfy both requirements, establishing a central government while protecting individual liberty and private property rights, the Founders drafted the Constitution. According to Article I, Section 8, the federal government only has eighteen specific and enumerated powers. Everything else is either left to the states or to the people. This concept is further reinforced in the 9th and 10th Amendments to the Bill of Rights.
The 9th Amendment reads "the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." The 10th Amendment states "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Right wing politics promote limited government, lower taxes, respect for private property, traditional American values while respecting equality among all citizens. The media, Democrat party and academia has effectively painted the Right with such negative connotations that those Americans who stand for and support the Constitution are generally called "extremists."
Today, the Founding Fathers would be denigrated by the liberal media as far right wingers, extremists and crazy rebels.
America has steadily moved to the left since the election of Woodrow Wilson, widely recognized as the father of modern progressivism, in 1913. Since then, there has been a progressive concentration of power at the federal level at the expense of both the sovereignty of the states and the liberty of the citizens.
In the current national political discourse, the terms Right and Left are often used to describe ideology. It is important to understand the true distinctions and meanings of these terms to come to informed conclusions. Ideology becomes policy when a politician of a particular ideology is elected. It is the responsibility of the voter to understand the rhetoric beyond the election season promises.
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