Lately there has been much written — and more than a little hand-wringing — about the fate of the fabled American “Center,” that vast majority of sensible people who just wish we could all get along.
In particular, there was an op-ed in the Times last week by Thomas B. Edsall — a seasoned, generally respected journalist — that goes to great lengths to lament the neglect of this supposed Center. Edsall places the blame for said neglect on “polarization,” on an electorate that’s been “pushed by political extremes.”
He cites an impressive number of recent studies to show us how big but politically powerless this Center appears to be.
One of these studies makes the point that:
Bipartisan majorities consider the following to be “essential rights important to being an American today”: ‘“clean air and water” (93 percent); “a quality education” (92 percent); “affordable health care” (89 percent); and the “right to a job” (85 percent). These high levels of demand for economic and social rights are similar to the support for more traditional civil liberties and civil rights like rights of free speech (94 percent), privacy (94 percent) and equal opportunity (93 percent).
Let us stipulate, as Edsall seems to, that these “essential rights” are at the heart of the Center agenda. That they are, in fact, what most people — more than seventy-five percent of Americans — want.
Given that, I take issue, not with the studies themselves, but with what Edsall makes of them. Which can be summed up in this zinger:
In practice, the study found that polarization is driven in large part by the left flank of the Democratic Party and the right flank of the Republican Party, which together make up roughly a third of the electorate.
Reflexively, as my readers know, I want to scream “both-siderism!” while losing my lunch. But I’ll save that for another time.
Because now I’m more concerned with how he seems to have missed a simple truth staring him in the face: The left is now the center.
Who knows if the left moved right or the center moved left — or both moved at once? But if those “essential rights” characterize the Center — Edsall’s forlorn majority being underserved by those polarized extremes — then he might just want to take a closer look at the current political climate. Especially in Congress.
Because what he calls the “left flank of the Democratic party,” I’d call the Progressive Caucus — those wild and crazy socialist radicals — who just happen to be sitting squarely in the Center.
You know the names — Warren, Sanders, Jayapal, Ocasio-Cortez, many more — and their number is growing. Some of them have been pushing these same rights — like a huge boulder up a steep hill — for over forty years.
Maybe this is their moment. Maybe it’s finally time for government to bestow such rights on everyone. Even those who don’t deserve them. Even those too dumb to know they want them.
The ideas that underlie these rights all came from the Left, as most good ideas do. And these particular ideas have lived very lonely lives for many years, filled with false starts, dead ends, and deeply cynical obstructions.
Yet owing to an unlikely confluence of bizarre events, all of these ideas are now on the table. A path to them is being actively sought. This has not happened in my lifetime.
Rather than marvelling at such a moment, Edsall chooses to show us how polarizing the “left flank” is.
What left flank? Who is he talking about? Who is to the left of AOC these days? Granted, she and her whole caucus are trying to push the envelope, trying to get their whole party to go bigger on all these ideas. But that’s not polarizing. That’s public debate, conducted by the people we sent to Congress.
Or it would be, if the Right hadn’t opted out of that debate. Or rather sabotaged it.
Edsall doesn’t talk much at all about the Right. Apparently, he hasn’t noticed that Republicans have amped up their obstruction and deflection to unprecedented levels. That their public face is increasingly deranged, even for them. That they have no interest in any of those essential rights, not even watered-down versions.
They’ve put all their eggs in the Trump basket, and nothing in that basket makes sense to any rational human being. Even diehard Republican voters — people who’ve spent their entire lives not paying attention — can’t help but see that their party has gone rogue.
You’d think this might’ve been worth a mention when Edsall told us where the “polarization” was coming from. You'd think he might’ve pointed us to the Left’s version of Fox News — to our own billionaire-backed media empire that matches Fox lie for lie, warped agenda for warped agenda — but, oh yeah, there isn’t one.
And speaking of polarization, one of Edsall’s studies has this to say:
…many of the most polarizing issues — including gay rights, gender equality, abortion and racial equality — rank 19 to 52 points below voters’ top priorities, which are the economy, health care, jobs and Medicare…
In other words, those hot-button, culture war issues so cherished on the Right are only a priority for a paltry few of their voters. The very issues being flogged so hard on Fox — and by the Trump-addled Right in general — aren’t even on most peoples’ short list. You can be anti-abortion and unemployed at the same time, but which matters more?
What I think Edsall either misses or chooses to ignore is that while these essential rights are nothing new, there is, for the first time, a better-than-zero chance at overcoming Republican obstruction.
Which is why it’s no accident that these rights have pulled even Joe Biden — the ultimate moderate’s moderate — so sharply to the Left that he’s almost at the Center.