Democrats need to abandon the idea that ‘centrism’ is the way to go

The Democratic party leadership prides itself on being ‘moderate’ and ‘centrist’, bland and soothing labels that do not really mean anything other than reassure people that they are only interested in incremental changes. The real reason they argue in favor of being ‘moderate’ and ‘centrist’ is likely because they get a lot of money from Wall Street, pro-business, pro-health insurance industry, pro-Israel lobby and other groups and do not want to do any thing that might risk that funding stream. But that message is too brutal for public consumption so the argument that they publicly trot out is that as the Republicans move steadily to the right, a move to the center will encompass a larger segment of the electorate who will have nowhere to go other than vote Democratic.

While that argument has a certain numerical logic to it, it ignores the political reality that election outcomes are determined by the people who actually vote. There is no point in theoretically expanding the pool of potential voters if by doing so you end up espousing policies that result in former actual voters becoming discouraged and not voting. The wins by progressive candidates recently were largely achieved by energizing those voters who were formerly disaffected or disinterested in the whole system. While there have been some center-right candidates who have won in some conservative areas (Doug Jones in Alabama and Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania) the problem for the Democrats is that they are not winning is areas where they should be winning, because polls consistently indicate that those policies advocated by progressive candidates are favored by majorities.

Matt Taibbi argues that despite the lessons of recent progressive wins, the party establishment is firmly committed to this wrong-headed policy however many times it has been shown to be a failure in the past.

“[C]entrists” don’t really exist. There may be individuals who self-identify that way, but the demographic is mostly a fiction. There’s donor money to be had there, but not many votes.

When the Democrats abandoned their reliance on labor in the Eighties, and began to be funded by the same big companies that backed Republicans, our politics devolved into a contest between two employer-supported factions. Neither really cared about the numerical majority of poor or working-class voters, so they had to get creative with their politics.

For that matter, where’s that sexy vote-rich crowd of people who are hell-bent on making sure banks have easier stress tests, and don’t have to increase their capital reserves? Where’s the mob that really wants to preserve the payroll-tax cutoff for high-income earners? That wants desperately to remove Malaysia from a list of human traffickers so it can join a free-trade pact?

There are no such people. These are not human positions. These are the positions of health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, job-exporting manufacturers, defense contractors and other high-dollar donors.

Nobody sits around the dinner table demanding that we keep derivative exchanges opaque, or retain the carried-interest tax break. You’re not winning independents with those positions. You’re just stroking a few lobbyists and their clients.

This is what we’re really talking about, when we talk about the “center” in America. The interests behind these positions are only the “center” in the sense that they’re a numerically tiny group of fat cats sitting between two increasingly enormous populations of pissed-off human voters.

It’s no Scooby-Doo mystery what most Democratic voters want: Stricter gun laws, stronger support of unions, reduced defense spending, a raise in the minimum wage, single-payer health care, tougher enforcement of white collar crime, an end to pointless wars and countless other relatively obvious demands.

Forget about catering to the mythical center. That only serves to alienate more people who would have otherwise voted for you than the number of new voters who are attracted.


  1. cartomancer says

    But how can a position be “centrist” when there isn’t a left wing to counterbalance the right? Surely the “centre” of a political spectrum is a purely relative term, dependent on what happens at the extremes?

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Imagine an ideological space, of as many dimensions as you prefer.

    Make this space large enough to include a locus we’ll label “corporate interests”, and another for which I prefer the name “hyperchristianism”.

    The preferred spot of the Democratic Party, Inc., lies exactly between the two. (Note that from nearly all perspectives -- political topology is weird this way -- the corporadoes will be to the left.)

  3. sonofrojblake says

    The Democrats are doing everything they can to ensure the next President is a woman. Unfortunately they’re ensuring her name is Ivanka.

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