Yes, the Center is Still Important

YES, THE CENTER IS STILL IMPORTANT….Props to the LA Times for going into print with a couple of perceptive election comments today. They’re both obvious points, but not everyone is making them. First, Ron Brownstein points out that yesterday was a repudiation of Karl Rove’s base mobilization strategy:

In the long run, the reversals raise fundamental questions about the viability of the strategy Bush and his chief political advisor, Karl Rove, have pursued to build a lasting Republican political majority.

Bush and Rove placed their main emphasis on unifying and energizing Republicans and right-leaning independents with an agenda that focused squarely on the goals of conservatives.

But Tuesday’s broad Democratic advance underscored the risks in that approach: In many races, Republicans were overwhelmed by an energized Democratic base and a sharp turn toward the Democrats by moderate swing voters unhappy with the president’s performance.

Any winning political party has to appeal both to its base and to centrist voters, but Rove has mesmerized analysts into thinking otherwise for the past six years. However, this was always a mirage. Rove’s “all base all the time” strategy produced only a razor-thin victory in 2000, and its unexpected successes in 2002 and 2004 were an artifact of 9/11. The iron laws of politics didn’t change overnight, they were just suspended for a bit thanks to the polarizing effect of the war on terror. As for the Democrats, the party didn’t take the conservative turn that pundits were spinning last night, but neither did it lurch to the left. Dems won by winning votes in the center, and the ideological balance of the party today is very close to where it was last week.

The second obvious-but-underappreciated truth comes from Peter Wallsten:

White House allies suggest there is little reason to think Bush and the Democrats will work together. Bush has tied himself closely to conservative movement leaders who bitterly disagree with Democrats for their opposition to tax cuts and to privatizing Social Security ? two of the administration’s top goals.

….On the issues that have been most important to Bush, he has given little hint of a willingness to compromise. He has made it clear that he would much prefer to work with his partisan brethren than to cut deals with Democrats on such issues as extending tax cuts that are due to expire and privatizing Social Security.

For some reason, the talking heads last night were consumed with speculation about whether Bush would suddenly turn into a friendly, compromising, bipartisan wheeler-dealer now that he has to deal with a Democratic Congress.

Have they learned nothing? That’s just not who Bush is. I expect his speech today will contain a few well-crafted platitudes about the will of the people, moving forward, etc. etc., but it will also contain plenty of tough talk about protecting the American people and standing up for what’s right. More to the point, Bush’s actions over the next few months will almost certainly be as combative as always. He just doesn’t have anything else in him.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation