Monday, December 28, 2015

Can a Centrist Movement be Unified?

As the year winds down, 2015 seemed to be the Year of the Extreme, at least to me.  Extremist views seem to have become the norm, with inflammatory rhetoric and outright lies becoming not just accepted but embraced by candidates' supporters, and this is not just limited to GOP candidates.  Bernie and Hillary both have had their share of fact-checked statements discredited.

While I would love to see 2016 become the year that logic, reason, data, facts, and truth return to our political culture and dialogue, you and I know that possibility is slim, if existent at all.  Supporters for both Trump and Cruz -- they are the best examples -- take everything their candidates say as gospel truth, and criticize the critics who dare to question their candidates' statements.  It doesn't matter how outside the realm of probability that statement is, or how far removed from confirmation with actual data, if someone disagrees, its because they are a part of the "establishment."  (The rise of the low-information voter will be a subject of future writings.)

To me, we need a united movement of Centrists, but I honestly wonder if that is even possible, for the following reasons:

1. From my observations and own experience, Centrists tend to adopt their political opinions completely independently, and not because the same statement is repeated ad nauseum over various broadcast and cable media.

2.  People who don't feel the need to belong to any group will likely not need to join this one, either.  Being able to act and think independently takes a certain measure of self-worth and self-identification. This issue could be our Achilles' heel.

3.  The range of opinions within this broad circle will likely diverge much farther than anything either of the major parties will see.  This would cause the construction of any kind of a political platform to require significant discussion, lively debate, and in the end, compromise.  That, in turn, requires us to reveal if we can truly act according to our words.

4.  There are more Centrists emerging within the parties, and data shows this.  But, I believe, those voters would prefer to remain under that canopy, even if others are moving that canopy further in a particular direction.  Maybe they don't see a need for a middle canopy, or they just aren't ready yet to step out into the bright sun of a million ideas to help construct something new in the Center.

5.  Lastly, I believe this effort requires some kind of a unifying voice, theme, or charismatic representative, willing to be hit with all the verbal punches that would ensue.  Ted Cruz, for example, calls us the "mushy middle," although he may have been referring to Donald Trump's beltline, or his own.  There will certainly be far worse insults hurled at us should these efforts appear on the national media radar.

While I initially saw some light at the end of the tunnel with better-known efforts such as "No Labels" and the Bipartisan Policy Center, upon further review, I'm less enthusiastic.  These organizations actually have funding and have been able to draw some notable former legislators to their non-partisan events, but it seems disingenuous since, while in office, these legislators were as partisan as anyone else.  Having since retired, or been beaten, they suddenly believe in crossing the aisle to shake hands?  I doubt it.  I'm fine seeing someone like Jon Huntsman participate, but people like Trent Lott and Eric Cantor cause these efforts to lose credibility, in my view.

This needs to be a grassroots effort, an a-c-t-u-a-l grassroots effort, not just one called that by well-funded organizations.  I know you're out there, I see you on Twitter every day.  We're like the many cars jammed on a freeway, all heading in the same general direction.  It would be so much faster if we all just got on a train together or rented a few buses, and we would get where we want so much faster. But we like having our own car, where we can pick the music, and can choose on our own if we want to change lanes or stop and get some coffee.

I once had a journalism professor in college state very clearly to never use the words, "the time has come for..." in any kind of editorial piece, because, one could easily argue, the time has come for just about anything.  And up until now, I have adhered to that instruction.  However...

The time has come for us to come together and get in this fight.  We need to raise awareness and let people know that we are here; that we don't like what the parties are offering; that we believe inflammatory rhetoric and demagoguery are not constructive towards creating sound policy that benefits all Americans; that sound policy only results from research, data, and a thorough sifting of facts from lies.

I consider it a fight, one that will be ugly.  You have encountered some of the internet trolls already, who are incapable of having a rational discussion on issues, but are well-armed with ridiculous words like "libtard."  And heaven help anyone who becomes a target on cable news or AM radio.

But if we don't engage collectively, then are we just confirming what the critics say?

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