Joe Gandelman: Is America’s political center out to lunch?
P.S. I told my Dad I was writing to you. He too said there are no moderates or independents, just liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans who deceitfully play pretend.
285 East 33rd Street
Thanks for writing me again. Your little friends are wrong, although it’s easy to see why they’d think the way they do given recent political headlines.
America’s 21st century politics now resembles professional wrestling, where nuance is taboo.
Big media corporations protect their vested interest in promoting shrill partisanship and ideological rage to keep their cash-cow political shows popular.
Just as professional wrestling’s outcomes are fixed, there is now a growing feeling in that in our politics the goose is also cooked, with some star chefs located in the highest court in the land.
A few developments:
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin calls for President Barack Obama’s impeachment over immigration and for making impeachment support a new litmus test for candidates, even Republicans.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — which toils to reelect incumbent GOP senators — is siding with Chris McDaniel, the sour-grapes tea partier who lost to incumbent Sen. Tad Cochran. And the GOP establishment looks impotent.
House Speaker John Boehner threatens to sue President Barack Obama over his executive actions, and Democratic strategist Paul Begala warns that Boehner could get the Supreme Court’s backing.
And Obama? His administration looks more hapless and defensive by the day on foreign policy issues and on illegal immigration, where he’s squirming, caught in a pincer between right and left. There is a feeling the American center is out to lunch or has greatly changed.
But changes continually occur in our society. Some companies that enjoyed booming businesses producing Karaoke CDs are now vanishing due to the popularity of Internet downloads. 20th century announcers pronounced “protein” as “proteIN,” but announcers today call it “proTEEN.” Pay phones and VHS tapes went the way of Greatest Generation’s favorite word, “swell,” and the original meaning of “gay.”
Newspapers and blogs battle to adjust to the popularity of social media, cell phone applications, and Facebook.
The television variety show is dead, and broadcasting battles to survive cable and Internet narrowcasting.
America is more divided than ever; nearly every niche, opinion, and taste seemingly has its own little spot where the like-minded or like-tasted can isolate themselves, reaffirm and celebrate their preferences and prejudices, and diss those who dare not share them.
This means a center is more difficult to pin down, and moderation is hard to sell to many people as anything but a sign of wussiness, ignorance, or lack of principles — even though it is often the opposite. Polls show it’s important for parties to win the center, which is difficult to woo and win. Still, politics, as life, means cycles.
In 1984, Coke and Pepsi switched from sugar to High Fructose Corn Syrup. But now Mexican-bottled Coke and Pepsi are becoming popular since they’re made with sugar. And Pepsi has come out with a new sub-brand of Pepsi: with sugar.
Similarly, the conventional wisdom is that young people will be more liberal than their parents, but a new poll predicts today’s teens may become adult conservatives due to growing up when government’s promises didn’t match government’s delivery.
Yes, the center exists in American politics, but it’s highly fluid. Moderates exist, but in increasingly smaller numbers, and they’re under fire to relent and repent, or be hunted down or declared irrelevant.
But, Virginia, I believe history shows that those who become irrelevant are those who take inflexible positions, are obsessively focused on destroying political foes, and who offend big chunks of the population.
They help create a nation’s center. The center may now be reconfiguring, but as the old guard dies off a new guard comes in. And, sooner or later, whichever political party goes too far will feel the underestimated center’s wrath.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.