Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The revenge of the moderates

They're back!

After years in the wilderness, drowned out by the loud voices of extremism, moderates are finally returning to prominence in American politics. Yes, both Bush and Kerry played to the center leading up to last year's presidential election, but they did so largely to try to carve out narrow victories in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. I have little doubt that both Bush and Kerry are moderates of the center-right and center-left, respectively, however much Bush has been pulled to the right by his evangelical base and neoconservative boosters, but the nature of American politics -- and, in particular, of presidential politics -- is such that both Republican and Democratic candidates tend to play to the more extremist elements in their parties, especially in the primaries. I have already complained vigorously about these "drunk" extremes, and I won't repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that moderates are, finally, as mad as hell. And, hopefully, they're not going to take it anymore. According to E.J. Dionne, in today's Washington Post, what we're witnessing now is a replay of pre-1992, when Perot emerged as a centrist alternative to the left-right stalemate and Clinton successfully ran as a centrist New Democrat, tapping very much into that same sense of middle- of-the-road alienation. Writes Dionne:
  • The accepted view in politics is that moderates don't get angry, don't scream and don't demonstrate. Politics these days is said to be dominated by ideological enthusiasts. Moderates are thought of as people who sit on the sidelines and decide which batch of true believers they can most easily live with. But something important has happened since President Bush's inauguration. America's moderates may not be screaming, but they're in revolt. Many who reluctantly supported the president and the Republicans in 2004 are turning away. The party's agenda on Social Security, judges and the Terri Schiavo case is out of touch with where moderate voters stand. Worse for Bush and his party, most moderates have a practical, problem-solving view of government and think these issues are far less important than shoring up a shaky economy and improving living standards.

Is this just a mirage? Maybe. But Bush's problems -- from the failure of his social security privatization scheme (which is going nowhere, fast) to his loss of traction on foreign policy (notice how little is being said about Iraq these days?) to his association with the moral absolutists in Congress (notably in the Schiavo case) to the Democrats' admirable resistance to Republican efforts to do away with the filibuster in the Senate (and thereby push through extremist judicial nominees) -- are real. It was 9/11 and the so-called "war on terror," successfully manipulated to portray Bush as a "war" leader, that allowed Bush to get through a disastrous first term without plunging approval ratings. It was the trumped-up fear of imminent terrorism that won the election for Bush, not "moral values". Who knows? There may be another terrorist attack, or there may be another foreign crisis that can be manipulated to Bush's gain. But it now seems that the honeymoon is finally over. And what we're witnessing is the return of reality-based reality, not the faith-based reality favoured by Bush-pumping ideologues on the right. And the reality-based reality is that most Americans, and especially most moderate Americans who inhabit the silent majority of the center, do not agree with Bush on most core issues. They reject his pandering to the evangelical right, they reject his class warfare, and they finally seem to be realizing that there isn't much going on behind the farce known as the war on terror. Plus, they recoil from the extremism of the Republican Party.

Conservatives like to think that America is a conservative place. It may be, in a sense. I have no doubt that most Americans loathe taxes, prefer smaller, less intrusive government, support their military, reject utopian schemes of both the left and right, and are generally quite proud and patriotic to be American. (Yes, we Canadians could learn a lot from America's conservatism.) But, on the whole, Americans are also tolerant and just, and, in the end, they know bullshit when they smell it. And, right now, Bush and the Republican Party are stinking up Washington with massive budget deficits, a ballooning national debt, highly intrusive government, poorly planned military excursions, chauvenistic unilateralism, and the twin utopian schemes of domestic evangelical theocracy and global American hegemony (which may or may not be equally theocratic). As I've said before, there's nothing conservative about any of that, no matter how hard conservatives try to justify themselves.

A sign of the times: A recent poll conducted by Democracy Corps, a Democratic organization, shows Bill Clinton ahead of George W. Bush in a hypothetical 2008 presidential election by the substantial margin of 53 to 43 percent.

The real center of American politics, not the false center mythologized by the right-wing media, is there for the taking, and, with Bush ever more exposed for what he is and what he stands for, Democrats are poised to move back in, as they did in '92. But it won't be easy. Moderates take comfort, but don't back down.

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