The united states today should be engaged in a great debate, not so much over who the next president will be, or over the role of government in economic life, but over the very identity and future orientation of the country itself. On the one hand, powerful right-wing voices argue that America is an essentially conservative country. On the other hand, other voices, led by the president, argue that “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America!” implying that we are an essentially centrist country. Strikingly marginal to the election — though clearly present on TV (Bill Maher and Rachel Maddow), in poll numbers, and in opinion surveys — is an American Left, proudly self-identified as such.

The relative marginalization of the Left in American politics is not new. From the beginning of the republic,...

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