mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Drop These Silly Notions Of False Equivalence”: The Democratic Party Is The Only Home For Centrists

This is a letter to political centrists.

For those of you alarmed that Rep. Eric Cantor was not conservative enough for Republicans in Virginia’s 7th congressional district, I encourage you to read Charles Wheelan’s The Centrist Manifesto. Wheelan, a professor of economics at Dartmouth College, puts to words what we can all sense: Partisan gridlock is becoming more than a nuisance in our lives. It is threatening our economy, our children’s educations, the welfare of the planet, and every other national priority.

Take a read through Wheelan’s “Manifesto.” It’s a short read, published last year after it became clear that President Obama’s re-election would not bring a new age of bipartisanship to Washington. Wheelan calls for the center to step outside of the two major parties and stand up for itself. In noting that the fastest growing bloc of voters is Independents, Wheelan argues that both the Democratic and Republican parties have driven out moderates by standing only for their political bases — and that the only resolution to this is an organized movement of Independents.

Take a read, because Wheelan is wrong.

Wheelan’s vision may have made sense in 2013, but much has changed in the past year. We are now well past the time for quixotic visions of bipartisanship driven by centrists on both sides of the divide. To read “Manifesto” is to recall a time when Americans could reasonably believe that in spite of bitter partisanship in Washington, Congress could transcend the ideological gap to act on immigration reform, universal background checks, and tax reform. To behave, in short, like statesmen.

If we have learned anything from Eric Cantor’s demise, it’s that the Republican Party is no place for pragmatic centrists. It’s not even a place for relentless partisans who may stray from Republican orthodoxy on an issue or two.

So it’s time to just say it out in the open: The resolution to Washington’s dysfunction is a migration of Independents into the Democratic Party, because there is only one side that seems at all interested in welcoming centrists.

We should first note one of the most fundamental rules of political science: Duverger’s Law. This is the observation, made famous by French sociologist Maurice Duverger, that in winner-take-all two-party systems, voters inevitably gravitate toward one of two major parties. This is because voters do not want to waste their vote on a candidate who will not win. Recall how quickly liberal voters snapped back into the Democratic fold after wasting votes on Ralph Nader in 2000; they know Duverger’s Law well.

Given Duverger’s Law, it would follow that any potential “Centrist Party” would run into institutional obstacles not easily surmounted by even the most popular movement. And even those preaching the gospel of bipartisanship, nonpartisanship, and centrism must accept the reality that the current Republican Party is plainly interested in none of that.

This goes for the 501(c)(4) groups like Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us. If you want Congress to move “FWD” on immigration reform, under what circumstance could you expect a GOP-led House to buck the Tea Party and pass a bill that commands broad bipartisan support?

This also goes for moderate voters, whom Wheelan notes comprised 41 percent of the electorate in 2012.

Wheelan correctly observes that any centrist party should not simply meet both sides halfway on each issue, but rather take the best ideas from both sides. A rational observer, for example, would not conclude that climate change is “probably” happening because Democrats are sure it is, and Republicans are sure it’s not.

He also correctly notes that many Democrats have strayed from sensible policies in favor of myopic political interests. But it simply cannot be said that there is no home for centrists in the Democratic Party.

In fact, several prominent Democrats — including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) — are on record as supporting school choice. Congress passed free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama in 2011 with large numbers of Democratic votes, and President Obama signed them into law. The Obama administration and many of its congressional allies have supported lowering the corporate income tax from 35 percent to 28 percent.

In other words, Democrats often support centrist policies without reprisal. Such apostasy would never be tolerated in the GOP.

Wheelan examines the U.S. Senate in “Manifesto,” and proposes that if moderate members began asserting themselves as independent from their parties, the cogs of Washington may begin to turn again.

“With a mere four or five U.S. Senate seats, the Centrists can deny either traditional party a majority. At that point, the Centrists would be America’s power brokers…good things can start happening again,” Wheelan writes.

He’s right, but who might these four to five senators be? At the moment, they would almost assuredly be Democrats.

Take a look at the vote scoring of the 112th Senate (which ended after the 2012 election,) done by political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal. The NOMINATE scale, an abbreviation for Nominal Three-Step Estimation, is immensely complex, and explaining it is well beyond the scope of this piece. Please accept for a moment that -1 on the scale is the score of the most liberal senator imaginable, and 1 is the most conservative. Zero is the perfect middle.

You may note the slight asymmetry of the distribution. I would mark the area between -0.25 and 0.25 as centrist territory. Thirteen of these centrists were Democrats, and only five were Republicans. Of these five, only Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Susan Collins (R-ME) remain in the 113th Senate. Murkowski, it should be noted, held on to her seat in 2010 only after a miraculous write-in campaign overruled GOP primary voters, who nominated fringe Tea Party candidate Joe Miller.

You might also note that NOMINATE scores President Obama as being as liberal as Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN) was conservative. Obama commands the approval of nearly 80 percent of Democrats, while Lugar was dismissed by GOP voters in favor of a man who believed that “God’s intent” was for women to bear the children of their rapists.

A Pew Research Center poll released this week found that 82 percent of “consistently liberal” respondents said they would like elected officials to make compromises; only 14 percent said they would prefer that elected officials stick to their positions. When offered the same dichotomy, “consistently conservative” respondents said they would prefer elected officials hold fast to their views by a 63 to 32 percent margin.

This Republican intransigence left Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein, two of the most prominent scholars of the Senate, to place the blame for Washington’s dysfunction squarely on the GOP in their 2012 book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.

“When one party moves this far from the center of American politics, it is extremely difficult to enact policies responsive to the country’s most pressing challenges,” Mann and Ornstein write.

Of course, we recently had two years of almost unfettered Democratic control in Washington. Was the record of the 111th Congress, which reigned in 2009 and 2010, perfect? Of course not. But it got things done, including passing a markedly centrist health care bill that has expanded coverage to more than 10 million people to date.

It got done because those four or five senators Wheelan speaks of cooperated. Those senators were all Democrats.

On the issues, I have no apparent disagreements with Wheelan. He’s a brilliant author and public policy expert.

But he, and others, has to drop these silly notions of false equivalence. I too hope for a day when Republicans in Washington are ready to rejoin mainstream political thought. But it does no good to pretend that they exist in that space now. And given the message that GOP voters just sent us from Virginia’s 7th congressional district, they aren’t coming back anytime soon.

Until the GOP is ready to return to rationality, centrists are left with no choice but to organize and vote for Democrats, and work within the Democratic Party to advance centrist goals.

 

By: Thomas L. Day, an Iraq War veteran and a Defense Council member of the Truman National Security Project; The National Memo, June 17, 2014

June 20, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Who Is For Growth And Job Creation And Who Isn’t”: The Biggest Thing Centrists Miss About The Inequality Debate

With the electoral victory of Bill de Blasio in New York City, an unabashed economic progressive, and the rising star of Elizabeth Warren, the issue of inequality has come to occupy center stage in lefty policy discussions. As Greg has been writing, it’s popular — something we see in reports today that Democrats are planning to use a near-certain GOP vote against a bill hiking the minimum wage against them in 2014.

But this has brought about a reaction from center-left types, who insist that the progressives have their priorities wrong. In the process, they mischaracterize the progressive view, and set up a false dichotomy between that and establishment positions. Progressives see inequality as a fundamental part of why our economy is not working as it once did, not a problem to be placed above job creation.

Bill Keller recently provided a representative sample:

The left-left sees economic inequality as mainly a problem of distribution — the accumulation of vast wealth that never really trickles down from on high. Their prescription is to tax the 1 percent and close corporate loopholes, using the new revenues to subsidize the needs of the poor and middle class…

The center-left — and that includes President Obama, most of the time — sees the problem and the solutions as more complicated. Yes, you want to provide greater security for those without independent means (see Obamacare), but you also need to create opportunity, which means, first and foremost, jobs. … The center-left … agrees on the menace of inequality, but places equal or greater emphasis on the fact that the economy is not growing the way it did for most of the last century.

First of all, this is a bit rich to hear from the center. The left has been howling about jobs and growth for five years now, for so long and so loud that our collective tonsils have about come unglued — and who were we arguing against? The centrists, who were a major bloc of support behind the premature turn to austerity back in 2010. Better late than never, I guess. Welcome to the party, guys!

In fact, this longstanding hair-on-fire panic about mass unemployment, which until now has been met with near-total indifference from the elite, is a big part of what motivates the inequality focus today. Because I have never met or even heard of someone concerned with inequality who is not also a fervent supporter of immediate monetary and fiscal stimulus to restore full employment as fast as possible. (That’s Item One in the inequality-reduction handbook!) The problem isn’t just mass unemployment — it’s the fact that we haven’t done anything about it since 2009. As Steve Randy Waldman has written, there are many economic strategies to create jobs now, of which we are trying none whatsoever. Inequality-driven discrepancies in political influence are a probable factor here.

What’s more, there is a compelling case that inequality is a major reason why our economy seems so prone to bubbles and why traditional policy remedies no longer have much purchase on job creation. A full recounting is beyond the scope of this post, but such arguments are worth taking seriously.

In any case, Keller is right to say that Republicans are now the major obstacle to any job creation agenda, so if centrists are now aboard the jobs train, I welcome them with open arms. They just shouldn’t kid themselves about who is for growth and job creation, and who isn’t.

By: Ryan Cooper, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, December 24, 2013

December 26, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Jobs | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Paul Ryan Cult” And The Gullible Center

So, can we talk about the Paul Ryan phenomenon?

And yes, I mean the phenomenon, not the man. Mr. Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and the principal author of the last two Congressional Republican budget proposals, isn’t especially interesting. He’s a garden-variety modern G.O.P. extremist, an Ayn Rand devotee who believes that the answer to all problems is to cut taxes on the rich and slash benefits for the poor and middle class.

No, what’s interesting is the cult that has grown up around Mr. Ryan — and in particular the way self-proclaimed centrists elevated him into an icon of fiscal responsibility, and even now can’t seem to let go of their fantasy.

The Ryan cult was very much on display last week, after President Obama said the obvious: the latest Republican budget proposal, a proposal that Mitt Romney has avidly embraced, is a “Trojan horse” — that is, it is essentially a fraud. “Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country.”

The reaction from many commentators was a howl of outrage. The president was being rude; he was being partisan; he was being a big meanie. Yet what he said about the Ryan proposal was completely accurate.

Actually, there are many problems with that proposal. But you can get the gist if you understand two numbers: $4.6 trillion and 14 million.

Of these, $4.6 trillion is the revenue cost over the next decade of the tax cuts embodied in the plan, as estimated by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. These cuts — which are, by the way, cuts over and above those involved in making the Bush tax cuts permanent — would disproportionately benefit the wealthy, with the average member of the top 1 percent receiving a tax break of $238,000 a year.

Mr. Ryan insists that despite these tax cuts his proposal is “revenue neutral,” that he would make up for the lost revenue by closing loopholes. But he has refused to specify a single loophole he would close. And if we assess the proposal without his secret (and probably nonexistent) plan to raise revenue, it turns out to involve running bigger deficits than we would run under the Obama administration’s proposals.

Meanwhile, 14 million is a minimum estimate of the number of Americans who would lose health insurance under Mr. Ryan’s proposed cuts in Medicaid; estimates by the Urban Institute actually put the number at between 14 million and 27 million.

So the proposal is exactly as President Obama described it: a proposal to deny health care (and many other essentials) to millions of Americans, while lavishing tax cuts on corporations and the wealthy — all while failing to reduce the budget deficit, unless you believe in Mr. Ryan’s secret revenue sauce. So why are centrists rising to Mr. Ryan’s defense?

Well, ask yourself the following: What does it mean to be a centrist, anyway?

It could mean supporting politicians who actually are relatively nonideological, who are willing, for example, to seek Democratic support for health reforms originally devised by Republicans, to support deficit-reduction plans that rely on both spending cuts and revenue increases. And by that standard, centrists should be lavishing praise on the leading politician who best fits that description — a fellow named Barack Obama.

But the “centrists” who weigh in on policy debates are playing a different game. Their self-image, and to a large extent their professional selling point, depends on posing as high-minded types standing between the partisan extremes, bringing together reasonable people from both parties — even if these reasonable people don’t actually exist. And this leaves them unable either to admit how moderate Mr. Obama is or to acknowledge the more or less universal extremism of his opponents on the right.

Enter Mr. Ryan, an ordinary G.O.P. extremist, but a mild-mannered one. The “centrists” needed to pretend that there are reasonable Republicans, so they nominated him for the role, crediting him with virtues he has never shown any sign of possessing. Indeed, back in 2010 Mr. Ryan, who has never once produced a credible deficit-reduction plan, received an award for fiscal responsibility from a committee representing several prominent centrist organizations.

So you can see the problem these commentators face. To admit that the president’s critique is right would be to admit that they were snookered by Mr. Ryan, who is the same as he ever was. More than that, it would call into question their whole centrist shtick — for the moral of my story is that Mr. Ryan isn’t the only emperor who turns out, on closer examination, to be naked.

Hence the howls of outrage, and the attacks on the president for being “partisan.” For that is what people in Washington say when they want to shout down someone who is telling the truth.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 8, 2012

April 10, 2012 Posted by | Budget, Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Enormous Power” Used Badly: Olympia Snowe’s Strange Martyrdom

The retirement of Olympia Snowe, at the young (by senatorial standards) age of 65, has again dramatized the perilous condition of the Senate moderates. They have been scorned, marginalized, and hunted close to extinction. Yet the striking fact about Snowe’s career is that, far from being shunted to the sidelines, she has wielded, or been given the opportunity to wield, enormous power. She has used it, on the whole, quite badly.

When George W. Bush proposed a huge, regressive tax cut in 2001, Snowe, sitting at the heart of a decisive block of centrists, used her leverage to support the passage of a modestly smaller and less regressive version. When Barack Obama proposed a large fiscal stimulus in 2009, Snowe (citing fears of deficits that she had helped create) decided to shave a nice round $100 billion off his figure and call it a day. If a Gingrich administration proposed spending a trillion dollars to erect a 100- foot-tall solid-gold Winston Churchill statue on Mars, Snowe would no doubt decide, after careful deliberation, that the wise course was to trim the height down to 90 feet and perhaps use a cheaper bronze alloy in the base.

The characteristic Snowe episode came during the health care fight. The Obama administration, desperate to win her vote, wooed her with endless meetings and pleas, affording her a once-in-a-generation chance to not only help pass health care reform but make it smarter, more efficient, and more compassionate. Instead, Snowe tormented the administration by dangling an elusive and ever-changing criteria before their noses. She at first centered her objections around the inclusion of a public option. Democrats removed it, and she voted for the bill in the Finance Committee, only to turn against it when it reached the decisive vote on the Senate floor. Snowe complained that the process was happening too fast, and that it was too partisan, which seemed to be her way of saying she wouldn’t vote for it unless other Republicans joined her.

This may sound sensible, even admirable, if you subscribe to the notion that securing bipartisan support for major bills is inherently valuable. But it’s worth noting that moderates like Snowe and their fans worship bipartisanship for reasons that have nothing to do with good government. A Republican representing a blue state, or a Democrat representing a red state, faces an inherently precarious situation. Often she will find the demands of her party’s national base pitted against those of her home state electorate. Olympia Snowe’s worst nightmare is to have to choose between infuriating Republicans in Washington and moderate voters in Maine. Creating legislation that passes by wide margins is not done out of a desire to bring bills closer into alignment with any abstract standard of good government, but to ensure her vote sits comfortably in the middle of a wide swath of support from both sides. In a farewell op-ed in the Washington Post, Snowe complains that centrism offers no electoral rewards. For her, though, such careful positioning was a matter of political self-preservation.

The New York Times report on her departure cast the central tension of her career as pitting “her own views as a Republican centrist against pressure from fellow Republicans to support the party position.” This is a common way people think about it – there are two poles, one representing the moderate’s principled convictions, and the other representing party loyalty. The negation of one implies the presence of the other. Snowe’s career proved that it’s entirely possible to steer clear of the party line without upholding any particular notion of the public good.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intel, March 2, 2012

March 5, 2012 Posted by | Sen Olympia Snowe, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Susan “Lucy” Collins: The Tragic Death Of “Centrism” In Washington

As I’ve been noting here, one of the key things to watch for in today’s vote on the Blunt amendment is how many Republicans defect from the party’s support for it. On the Senate floor just now, one of the key “centrists” that Dems were watching, Susan Collins, announced she will vote for it.

“I feel that I have to vote for Senator Blunt’s amendment, with the hope that its scope will be further narrowed and refined as the legislative process proceeds,” Collins said, vaguely accusing both sides of “playing politics” with the issue.

Collins had been undecided, and the reason she offered for supporting the Blunt measure is that she had asked the Obama administration for further clarification on how Obama’s contraception mandate compromise — which would be undone by Blunt — would impact self-insured religious organizations. She claimed the answer provided by the administration was insufficient.

The question, of course, is whether any answer would have been sufficient. Given Collins’ repeated role as Lucy to the Dems’ Charlie Brown, it’s fair to ask whether this was merely an excuse to cast the Yes vote on Blunt that she would have cast no matter what reassurances the administration offered.

And this goes to the heart of another debate that’s been raging of late. Olympia Snowe’s  announced retirement has prompted a great deal of hand-wringing about how supposed “centrist” politicians no longer have any meaningful role to play in Washington. The demands for ideological purity on both sides, we’re told, have grown so strident that the possibility of bipartisan compromise has vanished.

But here you have a case where one of these “centrists” decided not to opt for the compromise position, and instead is going with the extreme one. Obama’s compromise is supported by six in 10 Americans, including 62 percent of independents, according to a new Kaiser poll. The Blunt position, by contrast, is the ideologically rigid one.

If there is no longer any “center” in Washington, it’s because “centrist” Republicans are not embracing solutions that are actually centrist. If bipartisan compromise is no longer possible in Washington, it’s because “centrist” Republicans are embracing the uncompromising positions, rather than the ones that represent genuine compromise.

 

By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post Plum Line, March 1, 2012

March 1, 2012 Posted by | Women's Health | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: