Joe Gandelman: The ‘Mighty Middle’ rises once again
Say a prayer. Put up a tombstone that reads “R.I.P.” for three prevailing political conventional wisdoms that seem to be quickly biting the dust.
The first is that President Barack Obama will always go along to get along, will in the end inevitably choose a mediated, moderate course to gain partial victories. That conventional wisdom is on life support as the more aggressive post-re-election-election Obama stresses that he doesn’t face re-election, he’s had enough of Republican roadblocks, and he’s going to draw lines in the sand. Being the first Democratic President since Franklin D. Roosevelt and the last President since Dwight Eisenhower to twice win a popular vote majority can do that to you.
Signs this CW was dying: Obama’s ignoring GOP conservative opposition to do a full-court-press on naming former Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense; Obama’s strong fiscal cliff position that led to partial Republican capitulation; Obama’s inaugural address which The Daily Beast’s John Avlon called a Lincolnesque liberal manifesto; and his decision to convert his legendary political operation into an activist group and political action committee. Will the Koch Brothers and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS meet their match?
The second decaying CW is that America’s middle is dead. Immediately after Obama’s 2008 election, I had lunch with a well-known commentator in New York City who accurately told me: “Joe, the center is under attack.” And that’s the way it was from the moment Obama took his first oath of office with Republicans blocking some of his key proposals to the birth of the moderate-Republican-hunting Tea Party, to the shellacking Obama and the Democrats received in the 2010 mid-term elections.
But now the center seems aroused — and fed-up. Obama won re-election with a coalition of his party’s base, rising demographic groups and, polls show, a big, fat chunk of moderate voters.
Democratic liberals and Republican conservatives (uh, oh, here come the political equivalency police) both tend to dismiss it as “the Mushy Middle,” but at key points throughout American history our political center has proven to be “The Mighty Middle” and there are signs of its resurgence again.
The moderate Republican group Republican Main Street Partnership decided to remove “Republican” from its name to try and attract centrist Democrats. Some strident radio and cable conservative talkers face ratings erosion. Liberal MSNBC’s ratings are on the rise and center-hugging CNN could get more viewers as its new boss Jeff Zucker leaves his imprint. And poll numbers show a shift.
The Republican Party got a 49 percent negative number in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal, the lowest number since 2008, and only a 28 percent positive. The GOP’s spiritual center, the Tea Party, got its lowest number yet: a 23 percent favorable rating. Republican pollster Frank Luntz, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, warned Republicans that they need to start watching their language, which will turn off more voters than attract them. In other words: to win elections Republicans must start sounding like serious problem solvers rather than aspiring talk radio hosts.
This is seemingly sinking in with (some) Republicans. Gone are threats about throwing the country into default. Senate Republicans vow there will be more compromise. Republicans at various levels now suggest the party is ready to do serious immigration reform, because they know the GOP needs binders full of Latinos to win future elections.
The third dying conventional wisdom is that Obama would be “another FDR,” or “another Carter,” as some say maybe he’ll be “another Reagan.” In reality, what we are likely seeing may be birth of a new “another” category — the precise negative or positive meaning to be revealed by the end of Obama’s term: one day a future President may be branded “another Obama.”
Joe Gandelman can be reached at email@example.com.