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.Comments