What has happened to the political center? The center’s traditional role has always been the thinkers who hold back those who are reactionary. The center puts the Nation first and ideology does not replace reason. The center is where proposals are studied, and analyzed outside the goggles of ideology. It’s the place that looks at ideas and says, “Wait a minute, let’s think about this.
Partisan conversations about policy aren’t conversations at all. They’re ideological slugfests. Shouting replaces discussion, and name calling is a substitute for supporting policy with logic, reason, and facts. I’m not saying ideology has no role to play in policy formation. Ideologies on the left and the right are incubators for ideas. It is the middle that is the test bed for those ideas.
Data from The Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics and Policy would tend to support a collapse of the middle. Pew prepared a series of interactive charts from surveys taken in 1994, 1999, 2011, 2014, and 2017. You can see the charts and change the years from a pull-down menu by clicking here.
Pew’s chart on the left reflecting the views of the median Democrat and the median Republican in 2004 shows a great deal of overlap and a clearly defined middle ground. The middle is broad. During this period, new policies were debated, and laws were passed. Our national debates were not as rancorous as we see today.
Pew’s chart on the right shows where Democrats and Republicans stand today. As you can see, the middle has shrunk substantially. There isn’t much overlap and the growth in the extremes is significant. The shift is apparent in our public debate. There is much talking at one another rather than to one another. People have become doctrinaire. Some think they are showing principle by taking extreme positions. They aren’t principled at all. If one is principled they listen to the other side, debate points in a civil manner and concede when the other side has a valid point.
That is not the reality in America today. Today’s major political parties are dogmatic, extreme, rigid, uncompromising, and try to impose their ideology in all circumstances without regard to practical considerations.
The two Pied Pipers of division and angst are President Donald Trump, and Senator Bernie Sanders, and the movements they spearhead. Trump’s ultra-nationalism and Bernie’s socialism give the appearance of polarizing America. But is that accurate?
In March of this year, Governor John Kasich told NBC News correspondent Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, “I believe the political parties are disintegrating before our very eyes. I think more and more people across this country see no purpose for political parties.”
Gallup polls keep a running tab on party affiliation. Their latest results can be viewed here. While there is a lot of talk about the growth of independents, it isn’t reflected in statistics. If one looks at the numbers, we see that the GOP is slightly losing those who identify themselves as Republicans. We should see a corresponding increase in Democrats and Independents. We don’t see that increase. Where are they going?
Some are becoming Libertarians, but many are leaving our national discussion altogether. They’re quitting politics and becoming apathetic to our national debate. That is not good for our freedom. If we abdicate our responsibilities as citizens, then extremist zealots will take over our lives.
While Governor Kasich may not see the need for political parties, the politicians, and special interests see a need for political parties. Parties keep the sheep in line and herded in the direction the parties want them to go. They also raise money and a lot of money. Running for office is expensive and the money must come from somewhere.
Partisan politics is a dance with the Devil when it comes to freedom, free thinking, and independence in making policy decisions. The parties tilt the scales of democracy. The left claims they tilt the scales in the favor of corporate interests. The right claims they tilt the scales in favor of minorities and social issues.
They’re both right. That used to not be a bad thing. It is now because of the doctrinaire nature of parties I mentioned earlier.
Therefore, people like Bernie and Trump, and their movements are dangerous to the nation. They can't see the center and put ideology above the good of the country in the false promise that ideology solves problems. Ideology is only to control the masses. It is useless for governing in a free nation. They turn politics into a quasi-religion that is set in stone.
That is not the vision of the founders. That is the very danger to our freedom that George Washington warned us about in his farewell address. Those who think they are doing the right thing by bowing to populism have been misled by zealots who care about ideology more than they care about the nation.
The center is not collapsing. It’s quitting. What will bring it back? That’s a good question. Maybe a third party, maybe a national crisis? Only time will tell. In the meantime, the lunatics are in charge of the asylum.
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