Is There a Center?

Perry Bacon, over at Five Thirty Eight, defines the current American political scene as follows:

“America is to some extent in a partisan civil war, and we essentially have three competing views on how to end it: A Biden/Bush/Kristol style approach that downplays divisions among America’s various identity groups and reaches for more compromises; a Sanders/Warren approach of resetting America along more equal lines; and a Trump/Barr vision that is decidedly Judeo-Christian and favors maintaining traditional norms over upsetting them to expand equality.”

The lesson some of my left-wing friends have taken from the UK election–in particular from the absolute rout of the Liberal Democrats–is that the center doesn’t exist in this civil war except in the mind of some benighted pundits and a few hopeless liberal believers in compromise, decency, and civility (utterly discredited notions given the realities of the political landscape ever since McConnell swore to never give Obama a single accomplishment).  I certainly align myself with the Sanders/Warren project of advancing political/economic/status equality.  And I don’t believe Biden is more electable because he appeals to a non-existent center.  What I do believe is that hostility to extending equality–coupled with the belief that the cost of such an extension must come at their expense–will win out in the 2020 election.  Warren and Sanders are more vulnerable to that kind of fear-mongering, that they will cost you in the short and long run, than Biden is–which explains, I believe, why Biden is polling better than them.  Biden, some people believe, will not upset the apple-cart unduly even as he saves us from the more unpleasant features of a Trump presidency.  It is Trump’s “tone” that upsets some people–and they’d like to be able to repudiate that tone without seeing much change in the larger landscape of American society.  We only talking 3 to 5 % of the electorate here, but with partisan allegiance so entrenched, American elections are now about two things: turning out one’s own partisans (while depressing the other side’s turnout) and getting a decent return on that three to five percent of truly swing voters.  I don’t believe–as many left-wing folks do–that going further left is the path to victory for the Democrats, that there is an untapped pool of voters just waiting for a more radical Democratic party.  I wish that were the case, but don’t believe it is.

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