Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Quagmire in the Battle for the Middle

I am once again indebted to The Moderate Voice for directing me to another fascinating centrist blog in the neighborhood. This previous one was the (unfortunately hiatus-bound) Tutukai. The latest is Pearson's Perspective.

Unlike many fellow conservatives, I don't buy into the frequent criticism that self-described centrists are either dishonest or lacking courage of their convictions. Actually, I think conservatives in the Edmund Burke / Russell Kirk sense should have an easier time relating to centrists/moderates, than to ideologically purist libertarians. Both perspectives tend to approach politics less dogmatically, preferring pragmatism to ideological purity. And both tend to distrust the concentration of power in the hands of any single political entity. Obviously this does not make them identical, but it should make them poltically understandable to one another.

However, I came across this quote in a post called "My Party Too," and it leaves me rather stumped.

"If Whitman and Schwarzenegger represented the heart and soul of the Republican party, I would be a Republican. Conversely, if Lieberman and Biden represented the heart and soul of the Democratic party, I would be a Democrat."

First of all, let me say that I have no doubt this is true for Mr. Pearson and a great number of other centrists. But for the life of me, I can't figure out why. There isn't really a common thread of political philosophy or policy that one could easily form around these four political figures. The only thing they really have in common is that they stand on the margins of the current political base of each party. Yet if the "heart and soul" of a party shifted to encompass these political positions, that would simply redefine where the new margins were drawn.

I do not consider this an unimportant puzzle. As Mr. Pearson himself notes:

"Independents like me make up approximately 30 percent of the electorate. Bush narrowly won the independent vote in 2000, but Kerry narrowly won the independent vote in 2004. The way for the Democrats to get back to the White House is to continue to gain among independents, which means a move to the center. The way for the Republicans to stop that from happening is to stake an equal claim to the center."
This is the cold political reality, no matter what ideology you prefer. Elections are won by securing your base and winning the battle for the middle (or at least not losing it decisively).

Wishing for the "heart and soul" of a party to change is just that - a wish. It behooves political strategists to try to solve this puzzle in a more pragmatic fashion - to find a coherent blend of policy and rhetoric which will persuade the centrists to support you, without turning your backs on your base. Thus my quandry. Whitman, Schwarzenegger, Lieberman, and Biden don't really represent a coherent philosophy or policy direction, unless I'm missing something. So how does a party strategist even attempt to appeal to those like Mr. Pearson in a way they can actually implement?

3 Comments:

Blogger Todd said...

"First of all, let me say that I have no doubt this is true for Mr. Pearson and a great number of other centrists. But for the life of me, I can't figure out why. There isn't really a common thread of political philosophy or policy that one could easily form around these four political figures."

The common thread is that they share moderate views on social issues, are fiscal conservatives, and are relatively hawkish on foreign policy issues. (Okay, we don't really know about Arnold and Whitman on foreign policy issues, but I am making an assumption.)

4:30 PM  
Blogger Todd said...

By the way, Mr. Pearson is my father.

I have been posting at Centerfield (www.centristcoalition.com/blog) for about 8 months, but after the election I decided to strike out on my own. I continue to blog at Centerfield about politics and policy, but having my own site allows me to blog about whatever I want, including uniquely Minnesota issues.

Anyway, thanks for the kind words, and stop by again sometime.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Thanks Todd. I understand your general point. But the devil is in the details.

Where will "fiscal conservatives" break on Social Security and Tax reform? I'd strongly bet you'd get VERY different answers between Joe Biden, and Arnold Schwarzeneger.

Where do social moderates stand on restrictions on late term abortion? Again, I doubt you'd find agreement between Christine Todd Whitman and Joe Lieberman.

It's the specifics that make this issue dicey politically more than the general trend.

10:30 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home