The Problem With Being in the Middle

These opening paragraphs in economist Robert Kuttner’s latest column illustrate why the correct solution is often not in the middle of the partisan divide, but sometimes to the left of most Democrats:

If anything is more overrated than bipartisanship, it is post-partisanship. The Republicans surely get this. They dig in their heels, don’t budge, and wait for the Democrats either to fail, or to come to them.

But the media are infatuated with the idea that excessive partisanship is a symmetrical problem. If only the Republicans and the Democrats would meet each other halfway, the nation’s ills would be solved. It is hard to watch the Sunday talk shows without seeing one interviewer after another demanding, why can’t you people just compromise?

There are two problems with this formulation, one tactical and the other substantive. The tactical problem is that the Republicans and Democrats aren’t playing the same game. So if the Democrats meet the Republicans half way, the Republicans only demand that they do it again. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is identified as media enemy number one because she rejects this nonsense.

The tactical asymmetry connects to the substantive problem — the fact that the solution to what ails the economy is somewhere to the left of most Democrats, not midway between, say, President Obama and Mitch McConnell. The economy will be fixed only with more public investment, more progressive taxation, and more regulation, but partisan compromise dictates less of each.

Clearly there’s nothing uniquely virtuous about the political middle (what Kuttner calls the “bipartisan delusion”), especially at a time in our history when both major parties are too much in the thrall of corporate power and money, when both parties are equally guilty of destroying the regulations put in place during the New Deal to keep the financial sector stable, when both parties are equally guilty of destroying the American middle class by an excessive zeal for globalization and so-called “free trade,” etc.

Kuttner shows clearly the problem of staking out a centrist position between what he calls “Republican faux-populist loonies” and “fat-cat post-partisans.” It reminds him, he says, of the great Yeats line: “”The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

“A real progressive,” Kuttner says, “with courage and convictions, could expose these people as false messiahs.”

Read his full article here.

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3 Responses to “The Problem With Being in the Middle”
  1. RL Crabb says:

    The problem is, with the country somewhat evenly divided between “us” and ‘them”, neither can hold a majority long enough to really fix anything. As soon as one party is elected, the campaign begins to delegitimize and dethrone them. Both are guilty of this.

    If the Founding Fathers hadn’t been willing to compromise, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

  2. Anna Haynes says:

    Beware of false balance, RL. It’s an easy, knee-jerk reaction, but not helpful when the reality is asymmetrical. Case in point: acceptance of climate science.

  3. Michael Anderson says:

    The only thing I try to balance is my checkbook. Sometimes I’m on the left, sometimes on the right. It’s all about the issue at hand. No single belief system fits all scenarios and needs.

    Being pragmatic, using common sense, and listening to other people, is the best way to craft public policy. Our current system does not encourage this very much.

    As a libertarian progressive, I hope the blogosphere will bring us to a new understanding of community, society, self-rule, and how to engage in effective dialogue.

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