Gerson’s sense of the ‘center’

GERSON’S SENSE OF THE ‘CENTER’…. Michael Gerson, reflecting on this week’s elections, believes “it was a center-right victory in a center-right country.” He was referring, of course, to Republican gubernatorial victories in New Jersey and Virginia. Gerson largely overlooked the Democratic congressional victories in California and New York. It is odd when the center-right country gives Democrats the biggest congressional majority in decades, and then adds more, isn’t it?

More to the point, Gerson believes Republicans going two-for-four in these closely-watched elections is evidence of President Obama “ceding the center” to the GOP.

Politicians who have run for governor — say, Bill Clinton — had a good feel for the politics of the center. Obama has yet to demonstrate it. According to the White House, on election night he was “not watching returns” — displaying a French monarch’s indifference to America’s shifting middle.

Now comes Obama’s largest test, which will determine the ideological atmosphere for the 2010 election. If the president — opposed by a majority of Americans, with almost no support from the other party — imposes an ideologically divisive health reform, it will smack of radicalism, reinforce polarization and may cede the ideological center to Republicans for years to come.

A couple of thoughts here. First, according to the Bush White House, George W. Bush was also not watching election returns in November 2006. Does Gerson believe his Christian de Neuvillette also demonstrated a French monarch’s indifference to America’s shifting middle?

Second, Gerson is convinced that the electorally smart thing for Democrats to do is to fail at reforming the health care system. I might suggest the governing majority ignore the advice.

But most importantly, Gerson believes President Obama’s efforts to rescue the country from the fiasco left by Gerson’s former boss are somehow beyond the pale of the American mainstream. Gerson writes of “radicalism,” “polarization,” and Republicans seizing the center.

My questions for Gerson are straightforward enough: has he seen the Republican Party lately? Is he aware of the Tea Partiers, Birthers, Deathers, “Freedom Fighters” and assorted revolutionaries who dominate the Republican Party in 2009? Has Gerson noticed that the GOP is led, in large part, by a ridiculous combination of confused ideologues (Palin, Bachmann, Pence) and deranged media personalities (Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity)?

Gerson believes Republicans are poised to represent the center a day after the chairman of the Republican National Committee publicly declared to GOP moderates, “We’ll come after you.”

Republicans may or may not do well in next year’s elections; time will tell. But the notion that it’s the White House engaging in “radicalism” suggests Michael Gerson is still part of a team creating its own reality.