In the current print issue of The Economist, Lexington’s Notebook has noticed something that makes me think Christmas may have come early: several recent attempts by the great silent rational majority to drag us back to sanity.
Revolts of the reasonable are hard things to pull off, not least because zealots and partisans have catchier slogans. Yet that does not dismay a growing number of America’s not-very-strident. Pointing to record levels of public disgust for the political classes, moderates fizz with innovative schemes for grabbing power from extremists of the left and right. Some are wiser than others.
This is exactly what we need, and is also where I stand personally. Nothing has been more damaging to the political reality of this country in the past couple decades than the rise of extremists, caused by the rest of us allowing them to seize the reins of influence, and in some places power. They exist on both sides of the aisle, though I think one has been far more damaging than the other (again, power). The country needs moderates in power, and seems to want them in power – the backlash against the GOP after their comprehensive and widespread defeat in November has said as much, including the reelection of Obama itself, a man whose pragmatism was the central theme of his argument to elect him and his claim to the presidency.
More than 50 members of Congress have joined the bipartisan No Labels group, chaired by Joe Manchin, a Democratic senator from struggling West Virginia, and Jon Huntsman, a former Republican governor of Utah whose 2012 presidential ambitions were undone by wonkishness and a general lack of belly-fire. Members are called “Problem Solvers” rather than centrists, and insist that staunch conservatives and liberals are welcome.
I took a look at No Labels and if they are what they appear to be, I’m signing up.
Books and newspaper columns talk of an “insurgency of the rational” and of the “sane, pragmatic majority” taking charge. A political action committee founded by New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, plans to spend millions backing moderates and independents in state and federal elections, with a nicely balanced focus on promoting gun control (angering the right) and school reform (which makes teachers’ unions seethe). The Common Sense Coalition, set up by entrepreneurs and fund managers, wants an online “Army of Moderates” to lobby candidates and elected officials. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, is said to be poised to launch a group pushing education and immigration reforms, using Republican and Democratic strategists.
The same arguments are cited, repeatedly, to explain why the time is ripe for a centrist insurgency. First, Americans are fed up with both big parties, especially in Congress, a body with an 11% approval rating in one recent poll. Self-styled “independents” account for up to 40% of the electorate by some measures. Finally, great faith is put in the power of technology to help new groups out-organise and out-campaign incumbent party machines, like small furry mammals scampering beneath dinosaur feet.
And if this small, scampering approach could become a full-fledged movement, maybe something could actually get done. But this is a good start. As it stands, the obstinancy, intractability, and obstructionism in Washington has turned the nation’s capitol into a place where momentum and progress goes to die. The 112th do-nothing Congress has turned into the 113th do-nothing Congress – most notably on the recent issues of immigration, about which there is little to be optimistic from what I’m hearing, and gun control – because of the extremists gumming up the works.
Some innovations have already sputtered out. Americans Elect, an online project to find a third-party presidential challenger for the 2012 election, failed to attract either voters or heavyweight candidates. The White House was the wrong goal, argues “The Centrist Manifesto”, a new book with a different plan to sell. The book’s author, Charles Wheelan, a teacher at Dartmouth College (and former Economist journalist), argues that a Centrist Party should focus on the Senate, aiming to win just four or five seats in moderate states. Thanks to quirks of Senate arithmetic, a handful of centrists could hold the balance of power.
This is apparently true. In the first chapter of the book Wheelan writes:
The Centrist electoral strategy revovles around the U.S. Senate. The party will ofcus on winning an handful of U.S. Senate seats in states where moderate candidates traditionally do well. With a mere four or five U.S. Senate seats, the Centrists can deny either traditional party a majority. At that point, the Centrists would be America’s power brokers. Nothing could happen without those swing votes. And when those swing votes represent sensible, moderate voters – rather than the non-compromising extremists of the Left and Right – good things can start happening again.
Sounds like a plan.