Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Politics: Schieffer Has a Point

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I often credit Bob Schieffer of CBS with the best two minutes of political analysis each week in his commentary at the end of Face the Nation. This week's commentary did it again, bringing up a point that he is hardly the first to express but seems to be largely forgotten in the mainstream media--every time a radical change occurs (a "game changing event"), the opposing political party tends to over-react toward the other extreme and while it might do well in one election, soon finds that it has gone too far from the mainstream and enters an electoral wilderness.

Of course, the reason nobody is echoing Schieffer's message is that neither side wants to acknowledge the historical precedent. The Republicans--at least the Conservative activists--don't want to believe there is a precedent, preferring to believe that this is a "new" era. The Democrats also don't want to look at other historical precedents--like the fact that major legislation (like health care) had never been passed without significant public support before--but more importantly, they are secretly hoping there is historical precedent in this instance and don't want to discourage the Republicans from heading far from mainstream voters. There's no incentive to make Schieffer's point.

People on the left and the right don't want to believe that there is anyone left in the center anymore, but that's still where most elections will be won or lost. The politically median citizen still matters, and they rightly feel alienated by both major parties in the United States right now. Some will not vote, but some will choose between the lesser of perceived evils, and the farther candidates go from the center, the harder it will be for them to attract votes. Contrary to what activists wish to believe, the median voter is not a member of the TEA party--median voters in Oregon and even Arizona have now voted for higher taxes. They may not trust government, but they'd still prefer that it start functioning better.

Canada has a similar problem. The Conservatives can't seem to bring themselves to the true political center, occasionally reverting to their right-of-center Reform origins and simultaneously keeping their poll numbers in check. The Liberals can hardly claim the center when there seems to be serious consideration of a coalition with the unabashedly-left New Democrats. Where is a "Red Tory," once the symbol of the political center in Canada, supposed to go now? Most find the federal Conservatives too far right, and the Liberals too far left. A few I know have actually gone to the Green Party, but that party has yet to win a single federal seat.

This isn't brain surgery; this is Politics 101. All the major parties in North America need to quit acting like they are applying their learning from Politics 457C and get back to the political center. Whoever figures that out first may be pleasantly surprised at the next outcomes at the ballot box.

Postscript: I guess I'm not the only one thinking like Schieffer. See Ed Kilgore's post today on fivethirtyeight.com.

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