Michael Wolraich's picture

    The Not-So-Mighty Center

    Bill Keller, the former editor of the New York Times turned social commentator, has once again cast himself the great champion of good ol' boringness, an aging journalist-warrior who defends civilized institutions against barbarous onslaughts from Occupy Wall Street, digital pirates, and the Huffington Post, to name a few unsavory elements.

    In Monday's column, he stood up for the long-suffering moderate center of American politics. "Centrism is easily mocked and not much fun to defend," he proudly conceded, "White bread, elevator music, No Labels, meh."

    Lo how the mighty moderate has fallen. Once hailed as the elector of presidents, the honorable compromiser, the reasonable thinker, the Great American Moderate has been reduced to...sigh...white bread.

    But hark! Before we seal them up in plastic and bury them in the freezer, Keller bravely assured us that the moderates live on and will play an important role in the upcoming presidential election. Keller seems to believe that his thesis is contrarian, radical even.

    Legions of pundits might beg to differ. The old swing-voter argument, rehashed every election since the 1950s, is so disarmingly intuitive that one hardly needs political experts to make the case. It proceeds as follows: since most liberals inevitably vote for the more liberal candidate, and most conservatives inevitably vote for the more conservative candidate, the only question would seem to be the preferences of independent voters who are neither liberal nor conservative.

    Pundits wishing to make the argument seem more scientific usually toss in some poll data to demonstrate that most undecided voters hold views somewhere between left and right, which is more or less a tautology. Keller didn't even go that far. He simply explained to readers what moderate Americans believed, citing no authority other than his own "gut check". Apparently, editing the New York Times makes ones gut an authority on such matters.

    Dripping sarcasm, Keller also suggested that Santorum's loss against Romney bolsters his case, as if a bitter, drawn-out win by an establishment candidate with extensive qualifications and a chest full of cash against a no-name underdog with little charisma and wacky views proves that the moderate voter is still king.

    On the basis of such incontrovertible evidence, Keller argued that Obama and Romney must move to the center, which is pretty much what every moderate analyst has been arguing for months and what every moderate analyst has argued in election after election for decades.

    But more often than not, they've been wrong.

    In 1980, Democratic strategists were initially delighted when Ronald Reagan emerged as the frontrunner in the Republican primary, believing that his views were too extreme to defeat Jimmy Carter. Former President Gerald Ford not-so-subtly hinted at his own view of Reagan's chances when he asserted, "A very conservative Republican can't win a national election." We know how that went.

    After Bill Clinton's election in 1992, analysts argued that Republicans must moderate to regain the presidency. As one Democratic strategist put it, "They are silencing the more moderate elements in their party and seeking an ideological purity from the right. A marginalized, right-wing Republican Party will be less competitive with Bill Clinton in 1996 than a more inclusive and centrist Republican Party." Two years later, Newt Gingrich's conservative coalition blew the Democrats away, taking control of both houses of Congress for the first time in forty years.

    In 1998, Newt Gingrich's resignation amid Republican losses and a swath of ethics scandals led many to conclude that the party had gone too far to the right. "The emerging cliche seems to be that the Republicans, having lost an unexpected five seats in the House and a couple of statehouses they thought were forever in their camp, will forge a new political message that is pragmatic and much less ideological, a shift in emphasis that will endear the party to moderate voters," wrote a Chicago Tribune political analyst. Gingrich's right-wing successor Tom DeLay easily debunked that prognosis.

    By 2004, George W. Bush was using "wedge issues" like a proposed same-sex marriage amendment to run a campaign directed at conservative voters. He lost the moderate vote by nine percentage points, but he won 84 percent of self-described conservatives. A host of hard-line Republican legislators rode his coattails.

    When Democrats swept back into Congress in 2008, political analysts declared that the Republicans had lost the center, and strategists encouraged them to follow the "California way" of moderate Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. Republican leaders duly lined up behind the "maverick" John McCain. He lost the election, and Republicans lost even more congressional seats to Democrats.

    In the aftermath, moderate Republicans like former New Jersey government Christie Whitman argued, "We're going to have to be more inclusive if we want to be a majority party. It's not as if the Christian conservative base didn't vote." A few months later, the Tea Parties exploded into American politics. In 2010, those Christian conservatives helped right-wing Republicans drive Democrats out of Congress and state capitols across the country.

    But what of the Democratic Party? Unlike the GOP, there has been little recent history of successful left-wing political campaigns. Ever since Walter Mondale's disastrous loss to Ronald Reagan, Democrats have been fearful of nominating liberal candidates.

    That was not always the case, however. The first half of the 20th century offers numerous examples of successful presidents, senators, and congresspeople whose politics were far left of center. There is no inherent reason why it cannot happen again.

    But people like Bill Keller have trouble envisioning such a possibility. Their "gut check" perception of the electorate is fixed and lifeless, as hidebound as their imaginations. They rate candidates' chances based on a checklist of political positions, measuring them against a mythical political center that they interpolate from the extremes.

    History demonstrates, however, that the American electorate is far more dynamic than the pundits give them credit for, swaying left to right and back again like currents in a cascade. It is not just a matter of candidates' personality, which the pundits grudgingly acknowledge in their prognoses. Political momentum extends well beyond any one candidate, reaching from the White House all the way down to city councils and school boards, transforming the political environment every few decades.

    Americans, it turns out, are open to persuasion. They listen to powerful voices making impassioned arguments. Those passions do not flow from the dull, desiccated, "white bread" middle that Bill Keller has staked out. They come tumbling down from the bluffs at either edge--if only politicians are brave enough to ascend the heights.

    Michael Wolraich is the author of Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual



    But hark!

    You frickin hypocrite. hahahahahahah

    Whilst you hark, hark on this. hahhahah

    I hit Avlon who has perfect hair and now finds himself on cable smiling so nicely.

    And I hit Frum who seemed so marvelous last year and a few years ago whilst he castigates right nutsfield.

    Of course we must recall that Frum wrote lies after lies after lies for a POTUS (I hate that frickin word) who could barely read a teleprompter!

    Oh, keep on keepin on or whatever crap that lying idiot kept repeating in 2006. Oh yeah, stay the course!

    You know, you are funnier lately. I don't know what it is. But I really (no snark intended) but you are really funny. hahahahaha

    Pundits are paid to be stupid. Todd would astound me three or five years ago. Now Todd just pisses me off! I recall when he got into it with Joe S and Joe S just shut him down like that poor waif who is now with CURRENT.

    Okay, give me a middle?

    We should tax the successful, ask for some sacrifice from idiots in my class and hit the middle for something.

    That is a nice middle.

    Oh the repubs would say, you cannot tax the rich in a recession--a recession which the repubs caused because they appointed foxes as regulators over the henhouses (read Bobby Kennedy Jr--which you certainly have already read) and they managed to take the monies necessary as bribes from corporate America to rescind or abolish regs established during the FDR Administration.

    The chess game became this:

    Okay, the right is NAZI Germany in the 30's and the left is Jimmy Carter.

    Okay, so the middle is Ronny Reagan when he was gov of Cal.

    What the hell is that?

    The only reason Wall Street split their contributions in 2008 was to hedge their bets because they saw that they were screwed. So they gave 59% to repubs and the rest to Obama so that they would not go to jail.

    There is no middle.

    It all revolves around how much corporate dick s&^^**&ing the dems are willing to involved themselves in.

    Karl is still out there pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars with Pudge running the numbers and...

    Well there is no hope.

    I read these Pinnochio threads and the real politique? claiming to call out liars....

    This is bologna.

    Oh Romney was only kinda lying. Two Pinnochios.

    To end my rant (as if I ever end my rant):

    There is a class war going on out there. And the upper echelon is responsible for that warfare and that UE wins every frickin time except when one sheriff in Illinois or one dem in some irrelevant district stands up to be counted or when our POTUS (I hate that word) says:


    Does anyone really think that Cantor gives one goddamn about Americans?

    Does anyone really think that Issa gives one goddamn about Americans?

    Does anyone really think that McDonnell gives one goddamn about Americans?

    Does anyone really think that Boehner gives one goddamn about Americans?

    Does anyone really think that the NRA or ALEC gives one goddamn about Americans?

    Does anyone really think that hate radio gives one goddamn about Americans?


    I had this itch I just had to scratch.

    I mean, good post!


    Thanks, DD. I used to write more funny but trying write all professional beat it out of me, I think. I'm trying to get back a little of it in my dag posts.

    On the basis of such incontrovertible evidence, Keller argued that Obama and Romney must move to the center,

    They are already in the center.  What does he want them to do, start fondling each other?


    I hereby render unto DanK the Dayly Line of the Day Award for this here Dagblog Site, rendered to all of his ass from all of me. hahahahahahahahaahah

    LOL...thanks Dan. I needed that laugh. I am in the middle of passing a kidney stone...LOL.

    Maybe this whole "move to the center" meme is a form of concern trolling aimed at moving Democrats further to the right?

    Amusing thought, but I don't think it counts as trolling if you state your preferences outright. (Unless your suggesting the Bill Keller is a covert right-wing Republican.)

    I was watching a video of Bill Moyers with Jim Hightower ... April 30, 2010 ... and Hightower was pretty heavy on populism. He spent considerable time going over the roots of the movement ... started in Texas in 1877. It made me think perhaps the Occupy Wall Street movement, while being the unofficial political center, might be the start of a movement towards populism as the means by which they will force the two-party system to listen. It will take a message the resonates with those disenfranchised with both party's and not happy with selecting the lesser of two evils all while ignoring a third possibility nestled between the two ... after all the political center is made of of people from both party's turned off by both party's movements away from the base they once supported.

    Hightower noted the tea-baggers were the closest thing to mirror the populist movement. So it would be a possibility, if the OWS people work all the angles to widen their charter to encompass more of what the public finds disgusting with the major party ideologies ... such as both sides working towards compromise legislation rather than one party rule while the other filibusters ad nauseam.

    In a nutshell, a populist movement aimed at cutting through the politics and getting down to settling on legislation aimed at the economy, jobs, taxes, working class and working poor as well as social services and how to pay for it would have a wide public support as long as it addresses concerns equitably. A populist elected to Congress would work with both party's to get to solutions that benefits both sides of the issue.

    It's a pipe dream, but if the crazier-tha-thou crowd from the GOPer base could pull it off, so to could the OWS.


    Personally, I'd like to believe that if we were to find a viable third party, it wouldn't be nestled between the other two, and that it would even lie on the same line that those two points define. (I was going to say something about not even lying on the same plane, but 3 points define a plane, so…)

    Actually the OWS movement occupies the political center which happens to the left of the Democratic Party ... they moved to the right to occupy the hill in the conservative domain once the Republicans moved their center to the extreme right.

    But what's important to realize about the OWS is that it's made up of people from both Party's that have becomes disenfranchised because the values of each party has shifted too far away from the center where they felt comfortable.

    So the nestling I referred to would be taking a little old-style conservatism and old-style liberalism and morphing it into a political discussion that attacks both major party's using their own techniques but moving in a direction tangent to each of the major party's ... in the direction the public demands instead.

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