November 11, 2005


Rise of the Center: Voters Are Choosing Performance Over Rhetoric (David Ignatius, November 11, 2005, Washington Post)

If my imaginary party of performance held a convention this week, its most likely nominee for president would be Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain. Over the past few years, he has been the most visible example of a politician who has tried to swim against the tide of partisanship.

"I think the pendulum has swung as far as it's going to, and it will now swing back," McCain told me last week. The reason for the shift, argues McCain, is survival instinct. Candidates know the public is fed up with divisive politics. "They want to see us unify. They don't want to see us fighting. They don't like the bitter partisanship," he insisted.

McCain cited the bipartisan "Gang of 14," which agreed last summer to foreswear judicial filibusters except in "extraordinary circumstances." "Every member of that group is happy, because our constituents have reacted so positively," McCain explained. "They're saying, 'Hey, here's someone doing something about our problems.' " He cited a series of other groups that are now meeting in the Senate to try to work across the aisle on issues such as immigration, military procurement and lobbying reform.

Is the public so eager for results that it will accept bipartisan solutions that actually require some sacrifices? McCain thinks so. He argues that if Republicans and Democrats could begin to work together on runaway health care costs and other entitlement programs, "Most Americans would say, 'Good work.' " I wish I were that sanguine: I still fear that this is a country that demands solutions -- so long as someone else pays for them. But that's what the 2008 presidential campaign should be about: forging a coalition for shared sacrifice and political revival.

Where is President Bush in this shifting political landscape? The unfortunate reality for the White House is that it may not matter much. Bush has never seemed interested in trying to shape a new political center, focusing instead on his conservative base.

Note that the issues where Senator McCain can't find any Democrats to work with him are the ones that truly matter, where the President has been leading Third Way reform: education, retirement, health care, taxes? A party genuinely interested in performance and the center would be backing him, as Kim Beazely has begun to support John Howard in Australia and the Tories are leaning towards David Cameron's Blairishness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 11, 2005 1:18 PM

Yes, McCain and the other "moderates" are the most combative folks in Washington, maintaining fights as long as possible, preventing the resolution of any issue by a victory for either right or left, never cooperating with large numbers of other lawmakers but always taking a divergent stand.

Posted by: pj at November 11, 2005 3:59 PM

mcCain won't even be alive in 2008 so it's all moot anyway.

Posted by: noam chomsky at November 11, 2005 4:44 PM

pj, Good point.

Posted by: jdkelly at November 11, 2005 5:34 PM

Noam, I'm counting on it.

Posted by: erp at November 11, 2005 6:58 PM

re: "combative moderates"

Good point, and one I hadn't noticed or considered before. WIll have to keep that in mind when I hear how important they are.

So, when the issues are settled, do the moderate induced delays have any effect on "moderating" the final outcome? Or is the settlement one which wasn't much changed from the original position, other than what a delay of months to years will impose? Does this mean that real moderates are people whose goal is to be disappointed no matter who wins?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 12, 2005 8:48 PM