Wednesday, May 16, 2012

If Americans Elect collapses, and "centrism" takes a hit, does anyone care?

Well, so much for Americans Elect, that full-of-itself "centrist" organization that was hoping to run a third-party candidate for president in November. Politico explains:

The group had qualified for the general election ballot in 27 states, and had generated concern among Democrats and Republicans alike that it could wreak havoc on a close election between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

But just after a midnight deadline Monday, the group acknowledged that its complicated online nominating process had failed to generate sufficient interest to push any of the candidates who had declared an interest in its nomination over the threshold in its rules.

What a charming euphemism: "failed to generate sufficient interest." The statement from AE CEO Kahlil Byrd is less negative, of course, but also more misleading: "Through the efforts of thousands of staffers, volunteers, and leadership, Americans Elect has achieved every stated operational goal. Despite these efforts, as of today, no candidate has reached the national support threshold required to enter the 'Americans Elect Online Convention' this June."
Uh-huh. Whatever. In other words, no one really gives a shit -- other than these supposed "thousands" and self-important (holier-than-thou) David Broder-oriented pundits like Thomas Friedman (whom Ed Kilgore suggests should be the group's nominee).

So does this mean "centrism" is dead? Of course not. It may not be a viable political movement (partisan even as it claims non-partisanship), and AE may not go anywhere, but there are still the likes of, oh, er, ah, Michael Bloomberg out there, not to mention all those self-glorifying pundits, and a lot of people like to call themselves centrists.

But, look, it really depends on what you mean by centrism. As I wrote back in November 2007:

It is also a rigid ideology that demands compromise between "left" and "right," however defined, no matter what, regardless of the merits of either side. And the split down the middle tends, from experience, to favour the right, which has manged in recent years to persuade the media, and many Americans, that the "center" is well to the right of where it really is.

And this Crossfire view of politics only serves to legitimize the extremist positions of the right, as well as their proponents, to bring them into the debate, to take them seriously, and, ultimately, to include them equally in whatever "compromise" is worked out.

This is how the right wins, with oblivious and self-important centrists enabling its hold on power.
Even further back, in November 2005, not long after I started this blog, when I was going through a period of self-examination with respect to just where I fit on the left, I wrote this:

The point is, the "center" is open to debate and interpretation. And if centrism for the left means abandoning liberal principles and ideals and embracing certain illiberal aspects of conservatism, then I'm not sure I really want much to do with it. It's fine to be a "moderate" or a "centrist," and I myself am no ideologue, but some things are worth standing up for over and above compromise. (For example: social security, universal health care of some kind, and the environment.)

Regardless, the center is with the Democrats, more to the left of where the Republican spin machine says it is. Indeed, I would say that liberalism is centrism. But it's up to liberals, and their Democratic candidates and representatives, to explain that to the American people, that is, to explain just how liberalism is at the very center of American life, how America's fundamental values are themselves fundamentally liberal.
I remembered all this when I found myself agreeing yesteday with Paul Krugman's assessment of centrism in general and AE in particular:
Americans Elect, a lavishly funded "centrist" group that was supposed to provide an alternative to traditional political parties, has been a ridiculous flop. Basically, about seven people were actually excited about the venture -- all of them political pundits. Actual voters couldn't care less.
What went wrong? Well, there actually is a large constituency in America for a political leader who is willing to take responsible positions -- to call for more investment in the nation’s education and infrastructure, to propose bringing down the long-run deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. And there is in fact a political leader ready and willing (maybe too willing) to play that role; his name is Barack Obama.
So why Americans Elect? Because there exists in America a small class of professional centrists, whose stock in trade is denouncing the extremists in both parties and calling for a middle ground. And this class cannot, as a professional matter, admit that there already is a centrist party in America, the Democrats -- that the extremism they decry is all coming from one side of the political fence. Because if they admitted that, they'd just be moderate Democrats, with no holier-than-thou pedestal to stand on.
Exactly. Damn centrists. (Unless it's the real center we're talking about, the liberal center, which is not what these self-styled centrists, nor those further to the right, would have you believe.)

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  • Americans Elect is a defective concept. They expected to attract a stellar politician who would win millions of disaffected voters. Instead, they attracted only political failures or unknowns who obtained a mere few thousand votes. Why would they expect anything different?

    Stellar politicians today are either Republicans or Democrats. A stellar politician who would attract millions of voters would know that it is politically impossible to win the presidency as a third party candidate. The most a third party candidate could do would be to act as a spoiler, splitting the vote of his own party, Republican or Democrat, so the other party’s candidate would win. No stellar politician would want to be the cause of that “treachery” to his party compatriots.

    If, by some miracle the AE candidate won, how could he/she ever accomplish anything as president? He would have no AE members in Congress to work with. Every member of Congress would be in the opposition party, with his former party members hating him the most. There would be increased gridlock as every member of Congress would want the AE president to fail, to prove that the whole AE idea does not work.

    AE should have started first at winning seats in state offices and in Congress, before aiming at the presidency. No athlete runs his first race at the Olympics. Why did the AE donors think they could start first at the highest political office?

    The only reason Buddy Roemer is seeking the nomination is that he has had a failed political career and could never expect to be elected to anything again.

    He was one of the worst governors in Louisiana history. He could not get along with people, put together a competent staff, or pass legislation. He did not work hard and seemed to love the adoration of his campaign followers but had no ability to govern. Read this excellent history of Louisiana’s governors, pages 259-268:,%22+Roemer&source=bl&ots=GXt38E_jVv&sig=poXJMn9QbCUESjDIP2-foOb3YLY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=n-xjT7CXDOORiQL8n_SiDw&ved=0CGMQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=%22Often%20wrong%2C%20but%20never%20in%20doubt%22%20Roemer&f=false

    Even today, he is Louisiana's most UNfavorite son. A recent PPP poll in LA rated him the most unpopular presidential candidate, with only 28% rating him favorably to 56% with a negative opinion-- a 2:1 unfavorable rating in his home state!

    As a Louisiana political commentator quipped, in typical bayou style:
    “Buddy Roemer, who has been out of politics for 19 years, couldn't win an election as a dogcatcher in Louisiana, much less the Presidency of the United States."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:06 PM  

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