Of all the memes that can lead our thinking astray, the notion that in American politics there is a "right wing" versus a "left wing" is the most common, the most incorrect, and the most dangerous. It derives from the tradition in the French legislature that the royalists sit on one side of the assembly and the populists on the other, and this is what makes it incorrect in modern America. Our legislators, both R and D, routinely claim to be working for the benefit of their constituents — and some do, on occasion — but their primary goal is clearly not to enhance their constituents' freedom, but rather to expand their own power. They do this by "making a federal case of it" in every instance and on every issue. They are all (with a very few exceptions) 'royalists'. This echoes a remark by Judge Andrew Napolitano that there is only one party in American politics: The Big-Government Party, that has a left wing and a right wing.
This meme is so common that anyone who suggests it might be false immediately becomes suspect of having ulterior motives, whereas the 'motive' in such cases is merely to open others' eyes to the truth. Such crusaders may be consoled by the knowledge that every true thing was first believed by a single person before being believed by dozens, hundreds, millions, and, finally, everyone.
The meme is dangerous because it leads us to believe that those politicians who identify with our side are correct and others who identify with their side are incorrect when, in truth, they are all on the same side, the side of The Big-Government Party. We thus support those who are guiding us toward ever more intrusive government, ever more dilution of our freedom, in the mistaken belief that we are on the side of the angels.
So, if there really is not a left-right distinction, what accounts for the division so evident among Americans today? What defines the divide we can so clearly see?
The division is between individualists and collectivists. It is a statist-v-libertarian conflict. On one side are those (statists) who subscribe to the notion that the citizen exists for the purposes of the state; these are opposed by those who place the individual above the collective, who insist that the collective exists to fulfill the individual, rather than the other way around. This is, in fact, the guiding principle upon which our nation was founded. We find in the Declaration of Independence Jefferson asserting that "...to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men...". The bedrock of our system is libertarian in nature: that the state exists to fulfill the individual.
Note that it says "to secure these rights", not 'secure our safety'. Our government was created to keep us free, not safe, yet when the USA PATRIOT Act was proposed in the wake of 9-11 only one Senator (Russ Feingold) and one Representative (Ron Paul) objected and voted 'no'. Every other member of Congress voted to give the government enormous power over its citizens, power that was unconstitutionally usurped from those same citizens. With few exceptions, we the people have sent to represent us those who think their job is to keep us safe — even if it means enslaving us.
Whether Democrat or Republican, left or right, nearly all of them are collectivists. Why?
It derives, I believe, from our natural tendency to acquire. Whether we understand it or not, economic principles are burned into our very being. We understand intuitively that it is better to have and not need than to need and not have, and so we gather wood before winter and save our pennies for a rainy day. Along comes a politician who says "Elect me and I'll see that you have whatever the current hot-button issue is!" and our natural reaction is "Great! That means I won't have to do that for myself!" and we cast our vote accordingly.
A politician who promises to get government out of our way so that we can do things for ourselves is much less enticing than one who promises to do those things for us. It's only natural. How can we delude ourselves into thinking that we are about to get the mythical free lunch? We can because we want to.
At the very base, our problems with intrusive government start with our desire to have a pony. Adults are supposed to know that a pony is expensive to start with and requires more expenditures for food, health care, and lodging, but, like children, we ignore those uncomfortable facts when it's our pony.
The fault is truly not in our stars but in ourselves.
If you're content with being a secure peon rather than a free person, you need not change a thing.