That Elusive Center

I’m torn.

I recently agreed to serve on the advisory committee of ReCenter Indiana alongside several people I like and admire. It is a bipartisan organization with laudatory goals.

Convinced that  “divisive Indiana politicians don’t represent Hoosier values,” the organization wants to elevate candidates who “represent the center, where most Hoosiers are.”

As ReCenter’s website argues, “the loudest and most extreme voices have drowned out sensible solutions,” a situation that has taken faith in government to an all-time low, making it critical that we restore “trust, respect, and accountability to our political system.”

Importantly, the organization defines “centrism” as behavior, not ideology– a willingness to engage in respectful dialogue with those holding different views, a willingness to negotiate in good faith and to compromise to achieve solutions that serve a majority of their constituents. It defines moderation as an attribute of character, not ideology.

The website identifies ReCenter’s values as

●      People over parties;
●      Results over rhetoric;
●      Patriotism over politics.

ReCenter’s political action committee intends to endorse candidates of both parties who display centrism/moderation defined in this way.

It is hard to argue with any of this, which is why I agreed to join the advisory committee. But I am increasingly concerned that the unprecedented nature of today’s American polarization will defeat these very reasonable–even noble– goals.

When I first became political “back in the day,” both of America’s major political parties were what I would describe as ideologically expansive. There were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and although the GOP was essentially center-Right and the Democrats were essentially center-Left, there were few if any philosophical “litmus tests” determining partisan affiliation.

That has changed–and the change threatens to foreclose our ability to negotiate our differences in good faith.

There are two contemporary realities that I see as barriers to the laudable goals of ReCenter Indiana and a number of other well-meaning political organizations.

The first is the effective sorting of voters between a political party and a cult. A recent example was highlighted by Pew research. Pew found that Americans support the continued availability of medication abortion by a margin of nearly 2 to1. The report of that survey result, however, also noted a “stark divide in partisanship in Americans’ views of the issue.” Virtually every respondent who opposed abortion was a Republican.

It isn’t only abortion. Public opinion on a wide range of issues has found a significant majority of Americans holding a range of relatively progressive opinions–while those holding minority far Right and/or extremist positions are clustered in the GOP. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that–no matter how one defines “moderation” and “centrism,” it is rarely to be found in today’s GOP.

That doesn’t mean there are no moderate or reasonable people left in the party, and ReCenter’s mission to identify candidates rejecting extremism so that those moderate and reasonable people can vote for them–especially in primaries–would make perfect sense, if it wasn’t for a pesky second reality. 

The cult that is the contemporary Republican Party is autocratic. It does impose litmus tests–and those tests require adherence to extremist and anti-democratic positions. The rare Republicans who put people over party and patriotism over politics are promptly ejected from positions of influence–Congresspersons Cheney and Kinzinger are gone, while Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar and their ilk have increasing prominence in the House of Representatives and the GOP.

Here in Indiana, the legislature’s radical super-majority is firmly in the thrall of the rural White Christians who–thanks to gerrymandering– still elect them.

So–here is my dilemma: how do those of us who agree with ReCenter’s definition of moderation and centrism– those of us who applaud efforts to return our state and country to a saner, more civil politics–accomplish that?  We live in a time when an organization formed to identify civil, reasonable candidates is likely to omit most Republicans–and a time when any that we do find are highly unlikely to influence the current trajectory of the GOP.

I am increasingly convinced that the only way America will emerge from its current divisions is a massive electoral defeat of the GOP, leading to its subsequent reformation or replacement. That conviction is at odds with the very laudable mission of  ReCenter.

Several of the people who comment on this blog are obviously highly intelligent, articulate and creative, so I’d appreciate the posting of practical solutions to ReCenter’s challenges.  

I shared the draft of this post with ReCenter‘s officers, and invited their response. It will post tomorrow.


  1. I suspect that you suspect that we will have to make some progress on jerrymandering before we can recenter the political debate.

  2. I am 71 yoa, white, progressive and was raised in NC. I’ve grown increasingly cynical, particularly since 2016. So, I’m hard pressed to conjure a pathway to resolve the, and other, issue (s) you/we face. But, I still have hope and would support noble efforts such as those of ReCenter Indiana (or wherever!). Please keep me informed, do your good work and, maybe, just maybe, I/we can initiate a cohort down this way!

  3. Professor-many of us share your dilemma. Stay focused, encourage people to get involved, or re-involved, and it will work itself out. If not, we will self destruct. Thank you, and your colleagues for this effort. The solution is not complicated.

  4. Yesterday, I posted a link to a thread on Twitter about the youth movement against the GOP so I guess, start there. My only addition to that thread is for government to stop making laws about women’s rights to their own body. I’ve said it before, dead corpses have more rights than women. Leave us alone!

  5. “I am increasingly convinced that the only way America will emerge from its current divisions is a massive electoral defeat of the GOP, leading to its subsequent reformation or replacement.”
    I agree with this statement. I think it is possible but only if the DNC and other progressive organizations commit to a long-term strategy of winning low-level elections and training progressive thinkers strategically, much the same way the Conservatives have done for the last few decades.
    What I fear is that if/when that transformation takes place the Progressives will do the same as the Conservatives have done to solidify their positions through gerrymandering and other unethical and undemocratic tactics.
    So, the importance of building the middle into a cohesive force is important. This organization sounds promising and I am looking forward to learning more about it.

  6. “The website identifies ReCenter’s values as

    ● People over parties;
    ● Results over rhetoric;
    ● Patriotism over politics.”

    We cannot escape the current politicization of America; each of the three values listed can be broken down to Democratic vs. Republican. “People”, “Results”, and “Patriotism” best describe the Democratic party foundation and goals while “parties”, “rhetoric” and “politics” best describe the Republicans party foundation based only on the goal of dictatorship. Elections have become a numbers game, forced on the country by the GOP which is currently made up of divisive Republicans who will unite and all vote for Republicans to maintain their numbers. The Democratic party remains divisive and will lose numbers if they do not unite to maintain or increase our numbers to prevent another Trump, MAGA, White Nationalist, Freedom Caucus takeover of all three branches of the government which maintain power as a minority. We, as a nation, will not survive another takeover as we continue struggling to survive the divisive leavings and legacy of Trump.

  7. Both parties do the same thing, so we must let go of yesterday. The attachment to our illusions brings about pain.

    If you want a new Democratic party (first decide if you want to be part of it), then join the party and make changes. Just be clear, the Democratic Party doesn’t care about you. It cares about its power.

    Lots of rabbit holes to choose…

  8. Oh how I wish I had some sage advice to give. A worthy effort that I surely support intellectually, but in practical application I am as perplexed as I was when the golden elevator ride occurred.

    I have placed my faith in our youth – and I guess my only suggestion is to look for those candidates who believe in promoting voter engagement. That also means voter initiatives on legislation, impartial redistricting, and ethical behavior in office.

    Good luck in your task – I wish I had more to offer you than moral support.

  9. First, money. ReCenter needs massive stores of cash to have any hope. If they can flood the zone with dollars to back their candidate of choice, they might be able to break through.

    Second, truly excellent candidates. The bar here is ridiculously high so that there can be a break through.

    The obvious question is “how does a reasonable candidate win a primary dedicated to elevating loonies?”. That’s the hard part. With enough money and the right messaging they might be able to get through (maybe?). In an ideal world (for them) their candidate wins (somehow) and then keeps their seat by taking advantage of the structural advantages an incumbent has. I would recommend focusing on open seats for maximum chances.

    Probably also focus on suburbs 1st. More red leaning than the cities, but less rabid than the rural areas.

    Alternate strategy: Focus on cities and focus on beating democrats. Then, when you run in future elections, use your victory over democrats to burnish your conservative bona fides and your messaging that you’re a “winner”. Then, move to suburbs, then try rural as you roll out your victory wave and work on your “getting things done” branding.

    My 1st pass thoughts.

  10. Compromise and finding “Center Ground” sounds good on the surface but how might it work?
    For example, The crazy R’s want to kill all the gays and the D’s do NOT want to kill the gays, so is the compromise to kill half of the gays?
    I think they need to be defeated soundly. But I have been saying that since the tea party crazies took that party over. They keep winning elections.

  11. I think the sane center is hungry for what you want to offer. I know I am. Identify those disaffected Republicans and frustrated Democrats starting with those who have shown a desire to lead. Provide the means for them to meet to discuss the issues. Ask them to support each other. Perhaps they can then develop a shared platform to communicate to the voters.

  12. Democrats have failed for the last 50 years to be the party of the people. The only hope I see is for them to be that, to really mean it, to learn how to get that message out, and to work like crazy to get voters at all levels.
    I only said Democrats, because who else is there? I do not have a lot of faith in them.

  13. I suggest spending your time and money finding and message-training very high-quality Democrats to run against Republicans at EVERY level. The 25% in the Republican cult will never leave their ideology because they are intellectually ill-equipped to do so. Forget them.

    In Indiana, you’ll probably not win that many elections this way, but you’ll close the gaps and activate the younger generations to vote for their best interests instead of for the party that is owned and operated by corporate/banking America.

    Good luck.

  14. If the goal of the group is to identify and endorse, then do that. If I try to make the future exactly how I think it should be I am both arrogant and no different than the current uber conservatives of the R party. Elected officials from the center will create an acceptable future that will continue to evolve successfully. Focus on the goal of the group.

  15. ReCenter is very much like my project of the last 6 years, CommonGoodGoverning. I see one yellow light flashing in its mission – “patriotism over politics”. Two problems: “patriotism” is a volatile word these days that means very different things to many people and will cause problems. Furthermore, as international comparisons on nearly everything: healthcare, education, happiness, inequality, etc. the US is being shown as second rate to most other developed countries. So what is their to be “patriotic” about? Such is some of the attraction of the “American Exceptionalism” pride on the Right….

  16. Further thought. I disagree with Dirk’s position that you need massive sums of money. To succeed, this must be a grass roots movement. Each potential leader will pull along their own followers. Followers will be able to host meetings, knock on doors, etc. Acquire volunteers by convincing them of the value of their work.

  17. The only thing that is going to work to bring back santity is the complete collapse of the Republican Party. Please bear with me, I will come back to the point of this post.

    As a trans woman, I have have followed, and watched hearings as much as I can stand on these laws being passed by Republican dominated legislatures across the country, including Indiana to eliminate trans related medical care for children and youth. And the Missouri attorney general just released a “ruling?” that puts severe limits on adult trans care. I didn’t know that an attorney general could just write his own laws? Children and youth who are trans and how do not get support are at a much higher risk of suicidal ideation and suicide.

    In the hearings, the Republican offer doctors who do not have expertise in transgender care, and are often in totally unrelated medical fields. They have anti trans “experts” who are experts essentially because they have done a lot of Google searches and managed to find a few people to talk with who were unhappy with their transition (they aren’t hard to find as some are very vocal). And some of those folks who detransitioned are also testifying – one woman is going from state to state testifying, I’m sure on the Heritage Foudation’s dime. And her story, if accurate, makes it clear that the clinic that “helped” ther transistion did not even come close to following the standards of care. The Republicans are also claiming that 80 percent of trans children and youth detransition, while the actual number is closer to 3 percent, and 60 percent of those retransition, and many of those who don’t retranstion report that they detransitioned because of all the prejudice and abuse of trans people by the public.

    Meanwhile there are hundreds of trans people showing up and protesting at hearings (if 80 percent are detransitioning, then the detransitioners should be the ones showing up at hearings), and Doctors and therapists who actually treat trans children and youth are testifying about how well these kids do and how harmful these bills will be. Parents are testifying, while crying and between sobs about how terrified they are that their kids are going to be put back into the closet by these laws, and how they are planning to move out of state. And trans kids are testifying about how afraid they are that they are going to be denied care and what a horrible law this is. The line to testify against these bills is so long that most don’t get to speak.

    And Kentucky state Sen. Karen Berg, whose trans son comitted suicide from stress from working against these trans bill for the Human Rights Campaign, and not long before his suicide, talked to his mom and asked her “why can’t I quit crying?”. When her son dies many of her conservative colleagues sent her condolenses and told her how sorry they were. And as the anti trans health care bill was coming to a vote, in her speech she said:
    “I’m no longer speaking for my child,” she said when it was her turn to talk. “You know my child is dead. I am speaking for every mother and father who has held my hand with tears running down their face, saying, ‘What do we do?’ . . . “Your vote ‘yes’ on this bill means one of two things. Either you believe that trans children do not exist or you believe that trans children do not deserve to exist.”

    And then the Republicans in the legislator passed the bill.

    If they will do this to our children, they will do anything, anything, to take us back at least to the 1950s, if not to the Handmaids Tale. We can only hope for, and work for, the death of the Republican Party.

    The references and quote from Karen Berg are from the Washington Post at:

  18. In Maine, Alaska and Nevada voters have become so disenchanted with their unresponsive legislatures that they have voted in citizen referenda for major election reforms involving open primaries and rank-choice ballots.
    These reforms would replace partisan primaries with open primaries where anyone can run, with or without the sponsorship of any political party. The top four or five vote getters would go on to the final election in the fall, where each voter casts a rank-choice ballot.
    If on the first ballot count your first-choice candidate comes in last, that candidate falls out and your second-choice candidate moves up to become your first choice on the next ballot count. And these instant-runoffs continue until some candidate receives most of the first-place votes. You can’t win with a mere plurality—as often happens now. No, you have to have a majority. So, the winner might not be your first choice, but might be your second or third, for example. And it’s the voters who choose their representatives—not some political party.
    Maine and Alaska have already conducted state-wide elections that way, with great success. Nevada will probably follow in 2026.
    In Indiana “citizen” referenda are initiated by the state legislature. So the problem for Hoosiers is to find legislators willing to draft or support enabling legislation for the adoption of open primaries and rank-choice final elections. Support for such reform can probably be found among independents and moderate Republicans as well as Democrats—all voters who feel their votes don’t matter.

    Suggested reading: The Politics Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save Our Democracy. Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter. Boston, Harvard Business Review, 2020.

  19. “I suggest spending your time and money finding and message-training very high-quality Democrats to run against Republicans at EVERY level. The 25% in the Republican cult will never leave their ideology because they are intellectually ill-equipped to do so. Forget them.”

    This seems like sage advice. And then as also mentioned above, there is the money issue.

    I applaud your efforts, Sheila, and wish you much success!

  20. I have to agree with Lester’s comment, patriotism is volatile and means different things to different people.

    Patriotism allowed the Nazis to run their course, patriotism allows the Chinese to Lock up the Uygers in re-education camps by the millions. Patriotism allows the Russians to abuse their own citizens, allow groups of thugs to beat gay citizens to death, and send barages of missiles into Ukrainian apartment buildings and hospitals. Patriotism allows North Korean hierarchy to promote their leader as a god! Flag waving and religion never turn out well. So if there’s a high point in being a bunch of near-dewells, it is the citizenry will eventually get tired of it, and it will cause great anxiety for those who believe you can politick from the pulpit.

    There is a reckoning that is approaching, just like storm clouds from the west. And from my personal assessment of the situation, it’s not going to be a slight breeze. The radicalization and the separation of society is going to make what’s coming extremely painful. And I would venture to say, The doctor is out concerning survivability.

  21. The organization could focus its efforts and resources on fair, nonpartisan redistricting. That would address many of your concerns. I also like the suggestion above about pushing for ranked choice ballots. Both of these are tough to do in Indiana.

  22. Many reforms are necessary for democracy to return. (And I believe it _is_ gone down in your neck of the woods.) The elimination of gerrymandering is an obvious one. Making it easier for everyone to vote is another. Removing money’s influence, especially so-called “dark” money, from politics is another. And there are more, of course.

    But for me, maybe the most important reform is the elimination of the filibuster, at least how it currently stands. People who hold democratic ideals–in opposition to those wanting government that incorporates autocratic, misogynistic, racist, and religious ideals–are increasingly cynical. Why care when nothing changes? With the current filibuster in place, almost no governing is possible. How can you prove your ideas when no ideas may be implemented? This serves the GOP who _want_ to show everyone that government is impotent and useless.

    And for those who fear the GOP governing behaviour without the filibuster, I say let them try. I think they will prove themselves generally inept and wildly unpopular when they do manage to pass things, to their own detriment.

    The Democrats are currently the only mature and responsible people in government. They need a chance to actually demonstrate this to the people, especially the young people.

  23. This all sounds good & noble, but let me present you with a real scenario. My State Senator is what I would call a decent & caring human being. We have had several one-on-one conversations and I personally like him. He has worked on enacting legislation to loosen up absentee balloting issues, has worked on housing issues regarding tenants rights, and hell, he was even one of the Republicans who did NOT sign the resolution kissing the ass of the NRA. All that being said, here is my quandry: he bought into the hideous abortion bill that was passed AND was co-author of one of the many anti-trans bills brought about this session. He is obviously conservative when it comes to social issues (and I am waaaay not) so how do I reconcile this? I am trying to wrap my head around how we ever can come together for the “greater good” when we may see differently what the “greater good” even means.

  24. Indiana has closed primaries and we all know that centrists don’t win Republican primaries, so the choices are limited. You could have your centrist candidate spew nonsense to make him/herself attractive to the rabid wrong wingers, then after the election, announce a change in party affiliation. Republicans have done that many times, most recently in North Carolina. The other option is to register enough centrists as Republicans to allow them to dominate the primary.

    You might also try to recruit enough good Democrats for every position on the ballot to have competition. Then you have to get the voters amped up enough to actually vote!

  25. Peggy – imagine a primary in a heavily GOP district. MTG is running against Adam Kinzinger. Wouldn’t the country be better off if Adam won, given that no DEM could win the district? It ain’t simply GOP v/s DEM…

  26. As a Democrat who resides in a very rural area of Indiana I do not see things getting any better for the foreseeable future. The local republicans are Fox and Newsmax fans. The retired ones either watch or listen to Fox the entire time they are awake at home. They’ve chosen to allow right wing media to continuously indoctrinate their small minds with fear and hatred of anyone who isn’t radically right wing.

    I finally had some hope that the Dominion lawsuit against Fox would finally force the Fox liars to publicly admit to their lies and propaganda. Tuesday turned out to be a very bad day for those of us who hoped that Dominion would not settle the case. Of course, Fox personalities either didn’t mention the settlement or they twisted their words to make it sound like they had no guilt.

    Now I don’t have any hope that the radical right can be defeated or might lose even a smidgen of their power as long as right wing media is allowed to spread lies and propaganda. Sorry that I can’t offer any potential solutions for you.

  27. As a slightly left of center Democrat I welcome any attempt to cure the current political situation that has morphed from disagreement into a war in our political culture, and while I have my doubts as to success of such an attempt, it is worth a try. This is not the first time we have had a seemingly impossible problem to overcome (see Reconstruction Days following the Civil War), but, like then, it can be solved and unity can be achieved, so I applaud Sheila and her
    compatriots in their efforts though I don’t think I can help Sheila with anything new in her public service attempt to unify the warring factions in this country, some members of which are incredibly ignorant of the history of this country and the institutions we have built.

    Sheila is more than knowledgeable of both our history and our institutions and will be an excellent member of this voluntary group in search of solution and unity. I wish them well.

  28. Gerald – so you think Reconstruction was “solved and unity achieved” – really, by the Klan and Jim Crow and related laws? I am sure the Right would love that kind of solution/unity!

  29. I think you need to help hold the center against extremism by supporting those Republican centrists that don’t have a hope of getting elected, because their voices and perspectives MUST be heard…even they only change a few hundred votes per election.

    An avalanche starts with a single snowflake. Start with the Repubs that certain folks label as RINOs. Nurture them…strengthen their speaking skills and help them make mainstream connections. Give them the background to work the system to pull themselves and compatriots into the legitimate public eye.

    This too will pass. This fraught extremism will burn out. It must. It is unsustainable.

    When the far right collapses, the small centrist vanguard Re-Center guides now must be in place to go forward with legitimacy when the collapse comes.

  30. Lester – it took time and wasn’t perfect and vestiges of it remain today, but it was a vast improvement over Antietam and Gettysburg.

  31. As a daughter of two parents who gave up their freedom and risk their lives in WWll to help preserve the US democracy, I know that effort to protect and promote those hard-earned freedoms is vital at this time. With the Republican Party pushing autocratic, authoritarian and undemocratic means to promote their agenda, civil democratic power seems anemic. I believe speaking truth to power and unobstructed facts are the basis to democracy, inclusion and progress. So, any effort to define the facts, and like Lester says define patriotism, helps get everyone on the same page and centered.
    Gerald Stinson thank you so much for speaking up from your valuable life experience. My parents are no longer here , but I won’t forget what they went through and continue to speak about what they earned for us.

  32. Sheila – Sadly, I think you have answered your own question, but let me add a few points.

    There goals are noble, but I doubt the meaning. To some, “centrism” means Liz Cheney with the support of Blue Dog, shrink the government Democrats.

    Whenever any one tells me that we have to stop “both” extremes, I wonder what “extremist” is in the Democratic Party. You may argue the wisdom of universal health care, a higher minimum wage, or basically providing the same benefits that other industrialized democracies provide for their citizens, but that is hardly “extreme”.

    Others have commented on “compromise” with those that believe in hate.

    Often, “both side-ism” refuses to believe that Reagan beginning his campaign in Philadelphia, MS is on the same level as Trump going to Waco. Sorry, but decades of dog whistles helped form the MAGA movement.

    All Republicans in power have gone along. “Moderate” Collins may or may not have believed Kavanaugh, but she went along with blocking Obama from nominating a Justice, and then agreed that there was plenty of time left to confirm Barrett. Cynical at best.

    People have switched parties in both directions. Now is the time for Republicans to give up on the fantasy of having a “moderate” takeover of their party. Now is the time for them to ally with the Democrats and give the MAGA party a thumping they will never forget. Then they can leave the Democrats and reform or re-form the Republican Party.

    Trying to create to “party of the center”, or the 900th group that wants to bring back the center is not only a waste of time, but prolongs the life of the MAGA party.

    But that’s just my take on it.

  33. People have switched parties in both directions. Now is the time for Republicans to give up on the fantasy of having a “moderate” takeover of their party. Now is the time for them to ally with the Democrats and give the MAGA party a thumping they will never forget. Then they can leave the Democrats and reform or re-form the Republican Party.

    Right on Len! I am an avowed RINO who won’t be voting for the Rong party for the forseeable future. Like an alcoholic, the Rong party is going to have to hit rock bottom before it sees the necessity of correcting its ways.

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