“Slumbering on,” by “Lexington,” The Economist, 7 April 2005, http://www.economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3841105.
This week’s Lexington column is focused on the sorry state of centricism in American politics.
It is hard to imagine John Breaux, who made a distinguished career out of cutting deals, or Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who defied ideological stereotypes, prospering in today’s Senate. Look at poor Joe Lieberman. Mr Lieberman has taken a centrist position on everything from Iraq to Social Security reform. His rewardâ€”apart from a kiss from George Bush after the state-of-the-union addressâ€”has been humiliation during his presidential run and a â€œDump Joeâ€ movement in his native Connecticut.
But which party will cave first? Well, the losing party — the Democrat Party, of course (even if they have ignored the lessons of Clinton):
The most realistic hope lies in the presidential wing of the Democratic Party. The Democrats have more of an incentive to move to the centre in presidential races than the Republicans, for the simple reason that there are fewer liberals than conservatives. Hence Hillary Clinton’s determined attempts to rebrand herself as a hawk on defence and a moderate on abortion. But she will have a harder time moving her party to the centre than her husband did. Most of the party’s energy these days comes from angry liberals who believe that the 2004 election was a close-run thing, and would have turned out differently if the party had only stuck to its principles. And even if Mrs Clinton can reposition the party for the election, it may soon revert to type. Eight years of Clintonism did remarkably little to shift its centre of gravity.
The problem for even the most charismatic centrists is that they are pushing against profound political forces. American parties were once loose coalitions of interest groups and regional blocks, which left plenty of room for centrists to cut cross-party deals. Today these parties are ideological clubs, playing to voters’ values as much as their interests. The great â€œCrossfireâ€ show that is American politics is set to run and run.
Truly great men do not change only their followers — they change their enemies. No American President since FDR has been as great as President George Walker Bush.
Update: South Dakota Politics sees the need for the Democrat’s collapse (at least on social issues), too.