Saturday, January 17, 2009

Beltway Centrism and the New Administration

Thomas "What's the Matter with Kansas" Frank, from the Wall Street Journal:

Centrism is something of a cult here in Washington, D.C., and a more specious superstition you never saw. Its adherents pretend to worship at the altar of the great American middle, but in fact they stick closely to a very particular view of events regardless of what the public says it wants...

Yet what the Beltway centrist characteristically longs for is not so much to transcend politics but to close off debate on the grounds that he -- and the vast silent middle for which he stands -- knows beyond question what is to be done...

As this should remind us, the real-world function of Beltway centrism has not been to wage high-minded war against "both extremes" but to fight specifically against the economic and foreign policies of liberalism. Centrism's institutional triumphs have been won mainly if not entirely within the Democratic Party. Its greatest exponent, President Bill Clinton, persistently used his own movement as a foil in his great game of triangulation.

And centrism's achievements? Well, there's Nafta, which proved Democrats could stand up to labor. There's the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. There's the Iraq war resolution, approved by numerous Democrats in brave defiance of their party's left. Triumphs all.

That's why it is so obviously preferable to be part of the movement that doesn't compromise easily than to depend on the one that has developed a cult of the almighty center. Even a conservative as ham-handed as former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay seems to understand this.

As he recounted in his 2007 memoirs, Republicans under his leadership learned "to start every policy initiative from as far to the political right as we could." The effect was to "move the center farther to the right," drawing the triangulating Clinton along with it.

President-elect Obama can learn something from Mr. DeLay's confession: Centrism is a chump's game. Democrats have massive majorities these days not because they waffle hither and yon but because their historic principles have been vindicated by events. This is their moment. Let the other side do the triangulating.

1 comment:

The Angry Independent said...

Amen LAD!!!

"Centrism is a chump's game. Democrats have massive majorities these days not because they waffle hither and yon but because their historic principles have been vindicated by events. This is their moment. Let the other side do the triangulating."

This is on target. Although I believe that some Centrism and triangulation may be necessary. BUT...Obama is working too hard to do it... and it could be to his detriment. His timidness to embrace bold progressive policies could cause him to fall short on many of his goals.

He seems afraid of a battle with Republicans... so he is jumping through hoops to appease them any way he can. But what he doesn't understand is that they are going to fight him anyway. If he gives an inch, they'll simply want more. The Republicans aren't interested in compromise or solutions... they are interested in sabotaging Obama's platform so much that his initiatives become ineffective in solving problems....which will give them a leg to stand on in 2012 and 2016.

He likes to use Lincoln as an example, but Lincoln didn't appease nearly to the degree that Obama wants to. If Lincoln waffled like that, the U.S. would have split in two. Yes, Lincoln reached out in terms of appointments, but he didn't stray or compromise too much on his vision and mission.

Waffling and triangulation aren't going to work this time... the problems of the Country are too great IMO. In times of great challenge... it has always been clear vision/determination that has brought this Country back... not weak or waffling leadership.