Thursday, December 02, 2004

Fragment 2: On Visionary Centrism

(This post-election schrift just never came together, even after more than a two weeks' worth of work. It was originally dated November 12, 2004, then re-dated November 19.)

In brooding about the fate of our nation (see Monday's post), I did what I often do: turned a sketchy idea into a catchy phrase, then tried to make that phrase 1) mean something and 2) make that something make sense.

In this case, the phrase is "visionary centrism," and it may be either a contradiction in terms or exactly what our country needs.

Like most Americans, I generally like moderates from either party. A healthy group of moderates makes parties not just less likely to move to one to extreme or another, but also ensures that parties stay more honest: members are more free to criticize party leadership without fear of reprisals, and are less likely to stand by one another no matter what.

This year, I voted for a moderate Republican in the Senate: Philadelphia's own Arlen Specter. There was a lot of debate among the Democrats I know as to for whom to vote, especially since it was possible that a vote for Specter could give the GOP a majority in the Senate. But Specter faced a tough primary challenge this year from Pat Toomey, an extreme conservative slightly to the right of Rick Santorum. Specter is a wiley one, a master fundraiser who knows how to cozy up to the leading Philly Democrats to get the votes he needs. And he's a pro-Labor, moderately pro-choice Republican. I'd like to keep this group from going extinct.

I smiled when I first read that Specter was in line for chair of the Judiciary committee and smiled wider when I read that he admitted publicly what everyone knows: that Democrats and moderates weren't likely to allow extreme pro-life judiciary nominees a free pass. Then I cringed at what I knew would come: public admonishment, calls for another Republican to fill the chair, being forced to promise a speedy confirmation process.

(Here's the problem -- I want to talk about visionary centrism -- that thing that Kennedy, Truman, LBJ, and even Nixon all had, that John McCain has today, however limited in magnitude or scope. Then I want to use this idea to suggest that the next Democratic presidential candidate needs to campaign on a big issue that most Americans can get behind, then convince them that they're the candidate who can get it done. This is what the Republicans currently have with the war on terrorism. For the Democrats, the silver bullet issue could be several things, but I'm betting on universal health care.)

(Instead I'm talking about Arlen Specter -- already old news -- and the advantages and disadvantages of cynically voting across party lines. This is actually close to the opposite of what I mean -- but there's no way back once you're off the rails like this.)

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