Cri de Coeur from the Center


Even the big guys are saying it now — Kurt Andersen, Tom Friedman, CBS’s Dick Meyer, Peggy Noonan — but check out this comment from a little guy at The Moderate Voice who says it as well as anyone [all spelling is ‘sic’]:

It seems like all the radicals on the faaaaaaaaaaaaar right and faaaaaaaaaaaaaar left are hanging on the edges of their one demensional flat worlds by their fingernails. If anything sucks its extremism in any form. [ . . . ]

Everyone should have noticed by now I debate from the middle whanging both the far left and right, and a few that have no clues at all.

If any of you watch and listen to C_SPAN’s early morning Washington Journal program you should have also noticed by now that the vast majority of the 100 or so callers every day, seven days a week are sick and tired of loggerheaded two party politics that hasn’t worked very well for at least the past 30 or so years. The real nasty tit for tat political backstabbing, “You got our guy so we will get yours” started back with richard nixon getting his hands caught in the cookie jar. [ . . . ]

The desire, according to the majority of C-SPAN callers seems to be the intitution of a third powerful political party…easier to say and wish for than do however.

So we must, for now, keep on voting for the lesser of evils out of the two parties in power now then cross our fingers after we vote. [ . . . ] or waste our votes voting for splinter group candidates that have zero chance of winning, or not voting, which I’m getting very tempted to do.

National Centrist Network, Unity08, those votes are out there and ripe for the picking, but it must not become business as usual. Let’s go back to the specifications Kurt Andersen laid down:

Why can’t we have a serious, innovative, truth-telling, pragmatic party without any of the baggage of the Democrats and Republicans? A real and enduring party built around a coherent set of ideas and sensibility�neither a shell created for a single charismatic candidate like George Wallace or Ross Perot, nor a protest party like the Greens or Libertarians, with no hope of ever getting more than a few million votes in a presidential election. A party that plausibly aspires to be not a third party but the third party�to winning, and governing.

Let the present, long-running duopoly of the Republicans and Democrats end. Let the invigorating and truly democratic partisan flux of the American republic’s first century return. Let there be a more or less pacifist, anti-business, protectionist Democratic Party on the left, and an anti-science, Christianist, unapologetically greedy Republican Party on the right�and a robust new independent party of passionately practical progressives in the middle. [ . . . ]

[O]ne of the core values will be honesty. Not a preachy, goody-goody, I’ll-never-lie-to-you honesty of the Jimmy Carter type, but a worldly, full-throated and bracing candor. The moderation will often be immoderate in style and substance, rather than tediously middle-of-the-road. Pragmatism will be an animating party value�even when the most pragmatic approach to a given problem is radical.

And here’s what John Hellemann said in the same issue of New York about the requirements for a candidate to win the trust of the fed-up center:

The candidate comes across, first and foremost, as not being completely full of shit. [ . . . T]he threshold act is candor. Our man (or woman) is blunt and plainspoken, allergic to cant, averse to obfuscation. [ . . . ] he delights countless voters who crave a leader capable of surprise. Who, upon hearing yet another of his forays into the realm of the impolitic, find themselves nodding, smiling, gasping, “I can’t believe he said that.� [ . . .]

[H]e’s recognizably human. His résumé is flawed, his family life imperfect; he’s made mistakes and keeps on making them. But unlike George W. Bush or either of the Democrats who ran against him, the candidate is able to admit his errors and explain how he’s learned from them. Confronted with a question to which he doesn’t have an answer, he utters a phrase�“I don’t know��that most politicians avoid as if it were synonymous with “I buggered the babysitter.� [ . . . ]

[H]is weapon of choice is subversive humor rather than populist rage [ . . . ] He’s more Jon Stewart than Howard Beale.

Yet the candidate’s critique is deeper and more nuanced than that. Behind the popularity of Stewart�and the rise of the Purple Party�is the simmering frustration with an increasingly polarized system that coughs up a series of false choices. As the academics (and former Clintonistas) William Galston and Elaine Kamarck put it in a recent paper, “Many Americans do not want to choose between a vigorous economy and a strong safety net, between individual liberty and national security, between social tolerance and moral tradition, or between military strength and international cooperation, and they resent a politics that forces them to do so.�

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