Thoughts of an American Centrist

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Centrist Paradise? We need Organization First.

Due to the recently forged anti-filibuster compromise, there have been a number of bloggers and pundits proclaiming an end to the dominance of extremists over the agenda of Congress. Not so fast, guys.

The Yellow Line has a great roundup of gleeful moderates, and his own words of wisdom:

“…it is prematurely optimistic to declare a transfer of power. The extremists in both parties are very loud and well financed. For the Center to take hold, we’ll need to see a lot more courage from the Centrists.”

I agree with that cautionary note.

I’d also like to add another criterion for a true power shift: cross-party interest groups. Our current special interests group system does an excellent job canceling each other out on the national stage: NARAL vs. Right to Life, ACLU vs. Focus on the Family, Brady Campaign vs. NRA. They all nicely balance each other in the general elections.

Unfortunately, within their home parties, these interest groups hold absolute sway with the core. While in a general election, a pro-choice Republican, for example, can offset the rage of the right by tapping into the pro-choice moderates and center-lefts, there is none of that buffer in the primaries. While opposition candidates have the backing (both financially and organizationally) of the core party interest group, the moderate is left out in the cold, looking for support from the much less structured center. Support from the other party’s special interest groups wouldn’t help, either. NARAL reaching across the aisle to support a pro-choice Republican wouldn’t be doing the candidate any favors. It’s support would be seen as a corrupting influence, and only energize the base, further alienating the candidate. Besides, I don’t know of a single pro-choice Republican who takes NARAL’s hard-line position on partial birth abortion, and I doubt any of them would want to be associated with that position anyway. No, the other party’s interest groups are of no help to the moderate candidate.

What we needed are Moderate interest groups.

This, of course, is tricky. NARAL and Right to Life have pretty clear mission statements. So do NRA, Brady, FRC, ACLU, Sierra Club, and all the rest of them. A moderate group would have a much more nuanced and difficult message to communicate and raise money for. Even the names would be tricky. What do you call a group that opposes teacher led school prayer, opposes the teaching creationism, and opposes abstinence-exclusive sex-ed programs, yet supports singing Christmas carols, supports keeping “Under God” in the pledge, encourages active discussion on religious issues, and seeks to avoid both the explicit condemnation and approval of homosexuality in high school curricula? “Americans for Educational Balance,” perhaps. Boring name, but I’d certainly join that group!

I can picture moderate groups like this forming around the country. Slowly, at first, because of the difficulty articulating and communicating the message, but gradually picking up steam driven by the sheer number of people who identify with their positions. Imagine a group called “The National Center for Abortion Reform.” Again, not a very pretty name, but it would have the values and concerns of the bulk of the country at heart, with an eye towards real progress on the issues. Each of the extremist groups on either side of the moderate coalitions would denounce these new institutions as being agents for the other pole. But we’ve heard that before, and we can take it. Groups like this could support moderates on both sides of the aisle, and give coalitions such as the Gang of 14 someone in their corner when the extremists try to raise hell.


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