Another Ex-Centrist Speaks Out

If you want a good morning morale-booster about the righteousness of the progressive political stance, you should read the apologia penned by military journalist and historian Thomas Ricks at, of all places, Politico Magazine. The title is “Why Am I Moving Left?” and Ricks is very specific in answering that question. But first he expresses wonderment at finding himself “off-center:”

I am puzzled by this late-middle-age politicization. During the time I was a newspaper reporter, I didn’t participate in elections, because I didn’t want to vote for, or against, the people I covered. Mentally, I was a detached centrist. Today I remain oriented to the free market and in favor of a strong national defense, so I have hardly become a radical socialist.

But since leaving newspapers, I have again and again found myself shifting to the left in major areas such as foreign policy and domestic economic policy. I wonder whether others of my generation are similarly pausing, poking up their heads from their workplaces and wondering just what happened to this country over the last 15 years, and what do to about it.

Ricks goes on to cite four national security developments (the ineptness of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; the heavy use of mercenaries; the use of torture; and intelligence agency abuses) and four domestic issues (growing income inequality; banker bailouts; big-money domination of campaigns; and gun massacres) that have made him rethink his detached attitude towards politics and policy. And he suspects he’s not alone:

I am no better at predicting the future than anyone else. I think there are many others like me who are just as puzzled about where our country is at now, and how we got here. No doubt there are many reasons, though I believe there are clear signs that the Reagan Revolution, which made incentive-oriented, free-market solutions the default mode of both parties, is now finally petering out. I anticipate calls for more federal intervention, especially in areas where the public good is suffering, such as transportation and the cost of higher education. We may yet see a leftish generation of senior citizens, a group of aging Baby Boomers who can make common cause with a squeezed middle class and a generation of millennials whose careers have been damaged by the Great Recession while the top 1 percent have grown even wealthier.

If so, we can hope that our new Gilded Age will lead, as the last one did, to a new era of Progressivism when reform and reinvention take hold to restore a democracy gone complacent.

One can only hope.

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

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.