Is Centrism “Fashionable” Now?

The administration of George W. Bush has served one good purpose. It exposed for everyone to see just how rigid and uncompromising a political party deeply entrenched in power can be. Now the same can be said for the Joe Lieberman-Ned Lamont race in Connecticut – the very concept of which has grown larger than the election itself. Rightly or wrongly, agree or disagree, this contest is being romanticised by the media as one between a sensible, thoughtful, and compromising lawmaker and a radical, narrow minded upstart. The more people hear about it, the more they’re saying, “We may want the Democrats back in power, but we don’t want one unbending and bullheaded ideology replaced by another.”

An article in the Economist suggests a disjunction between the opinions of ordinary Americans and the behaviour of the political elites. Most Americans have fairly centrist views on everything from multilateralism to abortion. They like to think of themselves as “moderate” and “non-judgmental”. More people identify themselves as independents (39%, according to the Pew Research Centre for the People & the Press) than as Democrats (31%) or Republicans (30%). Yet, the article goes on to say, centrism is a sleeping giant, a force whose influence is waning in the corridors of power. Why, you may ask?

Too many powerful people want to keep it sedated. The Republicans have gone from one triumph to another by embracing sunbelt radicalism rather than preppie moderation. Today the party controls not only Washington, but the whole political agenda. Every battle is fought on Republican turf. Taxes? The debate is not over how much to raise them to close the looming deficit but how to cut them. Life? The issue isn’t how to prevent school shootings such as the one that took nine lives in Minnesota, but about Terri Schiavo… A growing proportion of Democrats come from deep-blue congressional districts where it is more important to pander to the liberal base than to reach across the isles.

Of course, all this could be changing. The Republicans have overplayed their hands on such issues as stem cell research, “activist” judges, war, and issue relating to life and death as personalized by Terri Schiavo. The American people has seen the drama of Tom Delay played out like a cheap political movie, and the far right wing of the Republicans are in the dog house.

But here comes the left wing of the Democrats, charging full steam ahead in their mission to punish Democrats who don’t meet their strict requirements of what a Democrat is supposed to be. Lieberman, by losing the Connecticut primary by a mere 3% with only 22% of the electorate voting, may have garnered the approval of the state’s moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans, and Independents.

Now, the entertainment business appears to be getting into the “centrist/maverick” spirit. Last night, two televised occurrences stuck out. The first was a repeat of last week’s Colbert Report that featured moderate Republican and former Clinton advisor David Gergen as a guest. Colbert, fully in his Bill 0’Reilly form, sought to ridicule the self described “passionate moderate” and centrism is general by saying things like “you’re with us or against us,” “black or white,” and “chocolate or vanilla” in response to Gergen, who said, “as you get older, you realize not all wisdom is on the right and not all wisdom is on the left.” When Gergen replies that chocolate-vanilla swirl tastes the best, Colbert replies that such a combination (an analogy of centrism) is “an offense to God.” Check out the video here.

The second instance was the first episode of the new FOX drama Vanished, whose main character is a moderate and maverick senator who won’t vote with his political party on the confirmation of a judge until he has answers to all his questions. Though (for now) that is a mere back story to the show’s main premise, the point is explored at least twice during the episode.

Am I implying that a couple of TV shows and one senate race in a small state are enough to beat back the partisan extremes on both sides of the aisle? No. But continued entertainment coverage of centrist themes combined with the increasingly bright spotlight from the news media on bipartisanship in contrast to the extremes of the right and left bodes well for 2008, regardless of which party ultimately wins the Presidency.

Quote of the day:

If the radical left can wrestle their party from the Clintons and the DLC then they can run things the way they wish. Until then, they are going to have to start winning elections in November.

Jack Kramer in an Op-ed from the National Ledger, commenting on the calls from Democrats for Joe Lieberman to step aside and let Ned Lamont win in Connecticut.

Welfare Reform’s 10th Anniversary is today and Bill Clinton makes an excellent point:

Ten years ago, neither side got exactly what it had hoped for. While we compromised to reach an agreement, we never betrayed our principles and we passed a bill that worked and stood the test of time. This style of cooperative governing is anything but a sign of weakness. It is a measure of strength, deeply rooted in our Constitution and history, and essential to the better future that all Americans deserve, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Just how well has welfare reform worked? President Clinton continues:

In the past decade, welfare rolls have dropped substantially, from 12.2 million in 1996 to 4.5 million today. At the same time, caseloads declined by 54 percent. Sixty percent of mothers who left welfare found work, far surpassing predictions of experts. Through the Welfare to Work Partnership, which my administration started to speed the transition to employment, more than 20,000 businesses hired 1.1 million former welfare recipients. Welfare reform has proved a great success, and I am grateful to the Democrats and Republicans who had the courage to work together to take bold action.

The success of welfare reform was bolstered by other anti-poverty initiatives, including the doubling of the earned-income tax credit in 1993 for lower-income workers; the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, which included $3 billion to move long-term welfare recipients and low-income, noncustodial fathers into jobs; the Access to Jobs initiative, which helped communities create innovative transportation services to enable former welfare recipients and other low-income workers to get to their new jobs; and the welfare-to-work tax credit, which provided tax incentives to encourage businesses to hire long-term welfare recipients.

I also signed into law the toughest child-support enforcement in history, doubling collections; an increase in the minimum wage in 1997; a doubling of federal financing for child care, helping parents look after 1.5 million children in 1998; and a near doubling of financing for Head Start programs.

The results: child poverty dropped to 16.2 percent in 2000, the lowest rate since 1979, and in 2000, the percentage of Americans on welfare reached its lowest level in four decades. Overall, 100 times as many people moved out of poverty and into the middle class during our eight years as in the previous 12. Of course the booming economy helped, but the empowerment policies made a big difference.

Read the piece. Very good.

Great op-ed from Cokie and Steve Roberts on the war on centrism in both major parties. Here’s a taste:

Bipartisanship is seen, by the extremes in both parties, as betrayal. Compromise, the most valuable word in the political language, is used as a damning epithet. And while the attempt to purge Lieberman is the most visible reflection of this mentality, it’s hardly the only one.

The center of the U.S. Senate is close to collapse. Moderates in both parties are an endangered species. Consider the centrists who have left in recent years, often because they could no longer stand the poisonous polarization that has sparked the campaigns against Lieberman and Chafee. Republicans like John Danforth, Warren Rudman, Alan Simpson and Bill Cohen. Democrats like John Breaux, David Pryor, Sam Nunn and Bob Graham.

These are the kinds of lawmakers who lubricate the legislative process, who work across the aisle, who don’t see every issue purely in terms of maximizing partisan advantage. Joe Lieberman and Lincoln Chafee are in that tradition. They are part of the solution not part of the problem. American politics will be better off if the ideological purists fail to defeat them.


Some people have asked me why I moderate comments to this blog, their implication being I only approve comments that agree with me. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The Moderate Voice, fortunately, has taken up the issue of blog commenting and I couldn’t agree more with him.

Half the comments that come through for moderation never make it because the person mistakenly feels that leftist fist pumping revolutionary rhetoric will impress anyone outside their MoveOn meetups. And the Limbaugh/Coulter-like rants from my more conservative readers are equally unimpressive.



One Response to Is Centrism “Fashionable” Now?

  1. Banker says:

    good job…

    Think you are on track with this post…

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