What’s all this talk about politicians moving to
the political center?
Every four years, we hear about the need for presidential
candidates to move to the center in order to appeal to the
audience beyond their party’s base.
I think that Texan populist Jim
Hightower said it best when he suggested that “there’s
nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and armadillos.”
A variation on that theme is from the late Republican
Barry Goldwater, who said “extremism in the defense of liberty
is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in
the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”
Political observers ask if Barack Obama is moving
to the center. I don’t know, and it is not my concern. But
I will say that the strategy of going down the middle to score
points and win elections, changing one’s positions, and flip-flopping,
is a time-tested failure.
The political graveyard is strewn with the careers of poor
souls who followed “conventional wisdom” or the advice of
highly paid strategists with their poll-driven drivel. Al
Gore and John Kerry - who snatched defeat from the jaws of
victory by becoming wooden centrist caricatures - are two
names that come to mind, Bush election stealing notwithstanding.
And Hillary Clinton torpedoed her quest for the brass ring
from the jump, by positioning herself as a virtual man and
a warmonger in support of America’s exploits in Iraq. The
“conventional wisdom” endorsed this path, but public opinion
ultimately did not.
what exactly is this conventional wisdom? In my humble opinion,
it amounts to two things: First, there is the water cooler
talk from a manufactured, media-driven punditocracy - “experts”
who claim to know, yet possess few if any qualifications for
their supposed knowledge, and make their arguments out of
thin air. These are the people who will, for example, engage
in a lengthy Sunday-morning television discussion on the problems
facing the Black community, without a single African American
(or anyone who knows a single African American) participating
in the discussion. Second, there is the effort to cater to
the so-called swing voters, people who are uninformed about
politics and the issues, and will vote for the candidate with
whom they would prefer to have a beer.
Ultimately, this talk about the fictitious center
is unproductive. Rather, the center must be redefined.
We live in extreme times, and positive action of
an extreme nature is needed. Capitalism once again is unraveling,
as corporate greed and policies of upward wealth distribution
take their toll on the common folk. Dinosaur industries such
as Big Oil are rewarded for their damage to the environment
and are profiting from our misery. Meanwhile, the U.S. auto
industry - the people who killed the streetcars and the electric
cars throughout the nation, and offered you Hummers while
other nations were investing in alternative fuel technology
- is repeating the 1970s, collapsing under the weight of its
own arrogance and inaction. As the government bails out the
mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the failing
Indymac Bank, where is the relief for ordinary citizens who
are losing their homes and their jobs and livelihood, those
who can no longer afford to live in America? Conditions suggest
that with a low-wage job at Wal Mart or McDonald’s awaiting
them, in a country that does little else than buy cheap foreign
goods and make hamburgers, these people are not seeking modest
milquetoast solutions to these crises.
has been able to seize on this discontent and desire for change.
Certainly, the Republican Party has revealed itself as nothing
more than a vehicle for the delivery of corporate largesse
- with lip service paid to religious fanatics and the Archie
Bunkers of America - and is headed for a well-deserved implosion.
But if the Democratic Party - also known too often for cow-towing
to corporate interests, failing to seriously pursue a Bush-Cheney
impeachment, and capitulating on the Iraq War and immunity
for telecom companies that spied on Americans - does not seek
meaningful, systemic change, then it won’t be far behind on
the road to the chopping block.
Progressives find themselves with a golden opportunity
to become the new center in American politics. When I say
progressives, I mean independents, Greens and other third
parties, the Democratic Party base, labor, and other groups.
There is much hope that the pernicious Bush era will come
to an end with the coming election. When that happens, then
the hard work begins, as a quadrennial contest alone does
not a movement make. A
progressive-led coalition must create a movement that takes
back the country, infuses the national dialogue with progressive
values, permeates the national consciousness with progressive
language, and shapes public policy in a deliberate, long-term
manner. Such action will be necessary even under an Obama
administration, to ensure that a progressive agenda comes
to fruition and has the broad-based support to sustain itself.
Democrats do not need to run to the center, but progressives
need to become the new center and lead the way.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, David A. Love, JD, is a
lawyer and journalist based in Philadelphia, and a contributor
to the Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service,
In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media
Center. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons
(St. Martin's Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International
UK spokesperson, organized the first national police brutality
conference as a staff member with the Center for Constitutional
Rights, and served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges.
His blog is davidalove.com. Click
to contact Mr. Love.