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Friday, March 02, 2007

 
Phantom Centrism

by digby


We hear a lot these days about politicians who polarize the electorate or how the people in the country just want everyone to get along. The conventional wisdom is the the nation is desperate for a leader who can reach across party lines and rule in a bipartisan fashion. Like Joe Lieberman. Or John McCain. I wrote about this ad nauseum after the election as this CW was taking hold, in the hope that the Democrats were not taking it seriously..

It just ain't true. The country is polarized because it's polarized. We actually believe different things depending on how we identify ourselves politically. I know this comes as a shock to those who think that the entire country is a nation of swing voters waiting to be drawn in by our fabulous arguments, ads or beer drinking companions, but this study says differently:

The story of 2006 was that regular Americans were sick of partisan divisions in Washington. The vast and consensus-hungry middle asserted itself in November, the narrative went, finally ordering the parties and their childish politicians to stop fighting and to work together.

After the vote, bipartisanship was all the buzz, and moderation the wave of the future. But something happened on the way to the evening campfire and s'mores. House Republicans started complaining about Democrats riding roughshod into the majority, refusing to consider their amendments to legislation. President Bush announced that he wasn't going to let the opposition of congressional Democrats stop him from sending 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders trashed most of Bush's domestic policy proposals as soon as they were announced in his State of the Union address.

One explanation for all this is that politicians are acting against the will of their compromise-loving constituents. Another is that Republicans and Democrats are simply being good representatives. We think the evidence supports the second interpretation.

The Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) surveyed more than 24,000 Americans who voted in 2006. The Internet-based survey compiled by researchers at 30 universities produced a sample that almost perfectly matched the national House election results: 54 percent of the respondents reported voting for a Democrat, while 46 percent said they voted for a Republican. The demographic characteristics of the voters surveyed also closely matched those in the 2006 national exit poll. If anything, the CCES respondents claimed they were more "independent" than those in the exit poll.

[...]

When we combined voters' answers to the 14 issue questions to form a liberal-conservative scale (answers were divided into five equivalent categories based on overall liberalism vs. conservatism), 86 percent of Democratic voters were on the liberal side of the scale while 80 percent of Republican voters were on the conservative side. Only 10 percent of all voters were in the center. The visual representation of the nation's voters isn't a nicely shaped bell, with most voters in the moderate middle. It's a sharp V.

The evidence from this survey isn't surprising; nor are the findings new. For the past three decades, the major parties and the electorate have grown more divided -- in what they think, where they live and how they vote. It may be comforting to believe our problems could be solved if only those vile politicians in Washington would learn to get along. The source of the country's division, however, is nestled much closer to home.


The worship of moderate centrism is something of a fetish among Washington pundits who are said to represent "the left" like Cokie Roberts and David Broder, while an unabashed conservatism is evident in most right wing pundits like George Will and Charles Krauthamer. Among the Sunday Bobbleheads it is taken as an article of faith that the country is unhappy with Democrats who appear to be too partisan and equally unhappy Republicans who fail to adhere to their principles by not being partisan anough. I think we can all see what that adds up to.

Here's an article from a FAIR by Peter Hart and Steve Rendall from a few months back that lays out the evidence:

While few commentators would disagree with the conventional wisdom that Republican success depends on the care and feeding of the GOP’s conservative base—GOP leaders would laugh at them if they did—pundits who make the same argument for the Democrats are virtually non-existent in national media. Instead, many of the most prominent political journalists in the country have made it their business to press the Democrats to move the party rightward.

Media advocates of centrism typically call on Democrats to reject their natural supporters, often denigrated as “special interests”: liberals, unions, civil rights and feminist groups, and environmental and consumer rights organizations. Meanwhile, corporate-friendly policies and conservative-leaning “moral values” are presented as the road to electoral success. Many political pundits say going centrist is not only the right thing—it’s the only way Democrats can win.

[...]

By April, Kerry had cinched the Democratic nomination, and George W. Bush looked vulnerable. The war was rapidly losing domestic support and a majority—53 percent—told a CNN/Gallup poll (3/28/04) they thought Bush had lied to the American people. That might have seemed to some like a good time for Democrats to accentuate the differences between themselves and their opponents—but not to Time’s Klein. In a column calling for bipartisan cooperation (4/4/04), Klein made a passionate case for Kerry to name Republican Sen. John McCain, who has one of the most conservative voting records in the Senate, as his vice presidential running mate.

Klein wasn’t the only one imagining a Democrat/Republican ticket. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (3/27/04) fantasized, “I want to wake up and read that John Kerry just asked John McCain to be his vice president.” Friedman explained that’s the only way to tackle the country’s problems, “with a bipartisan spirit and bipartisan team.”

[...]

But after the election, the storyline that Democrats lost because they were insufficiently “moral” was set in stone. In October 2005, the New York Times’ Bai claimed (10/2/05) that “all but the most obstinate liberals now realize that traditional values matter to American voters more than they thought. Gradually over the past couple of decades, the Democratic Party has ceded issues of faith and morality to the Republicans.”

Ron Brownstein (L. A. Times, 11/4/04) cited unnamed Democrats making this point immediately after the election. “To many Democratic analysts,” wrote Brownstein, the message of 2004 was that “the party will find it virtually impossible to reach a presidential or congressional majority without regaining at least some ground with socially conservative voters.” The only Democratic analyst quoted by name was the Democratic Leadership Council’s Al From, who affirmed, “We’ve got to close the cultural gap.”


None of this is news to those of us who have been following politics for the last 25 years from outside the narrow social confines of the DC establishment. This polarization is the result of the rise of the ideological thugs of the modern conservative movement. The deed was done a long time ago and after years of trying to appease, persuade and cajole, the Democrats in this country --- at least the rank and file --- finally realized the futility of such actions and are fighting back. Apparently the media find this distateful. Try to imagine how little I care.



Update: Speaking of rightwingnuts.

UpdateII: Oh fergawd's sake. And after I was so nice to Joe Klein, here he goes again with his world class wankerosity. Sigh. Old Dog, old tricks, fleas.


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