I’m fascinated by the ideological chart that Brad DeLong features in this post. Brad’s point is that Barack Obama is not very liberal relative to other Democrats, and insignificantly more liberal than Hillary Clinton. But what fascinates me, besides the relatively huge difference between Bush and McCain in how conservative they are, is how far apart the Democrats and Republicans are–that is, the tiny, tiny fraction of Democrats and Republicans who overlap on the ideological spectrum, in the center.
No wonder why we’re having such a hard time with “bipartisanship” and working together with our common concerns and priorities to come up with consensus policy solutions. There’s not much there in common after all.
I always thought politicians had the incentive to move toward the center when it comes to winning elections, but maybe that model doesn’t work in practice. I suppose the most vocal participants in the political process tend to come from the extremes and try to lure the politicians and policymakers toward those extremes, not toward the center. And if you’re someone who tries to stay in the center, well, maybe you’re not exactly in the “middle” of lots of friends.
This polarization of opinions seems especially apparent in the blogosphere. I noticed that in today’s Washington Post article about Netroots Nation, the liberal bloggers convention which took place this past weekend, Obama is made to sound ”not liberal enough.”
Of course, we at the Concord Coalition are used to being lonely and unpopular in staying in the center of fiscal policy, pointing out that getting the fiscal outlook in order will require everything to be on the table–both revenue increases and spending restraint. We get conservative, supply-siders who accuse us of wanting to close the fiscal gap entirely through raising taxes and who say we don’t care about crippling the economy for the sake of deficit reduction. And we get liberal champions of Social Security accusing us of laying all the blame on entitlement spending and wanting to destroy the programs. Honestly, we are at neither extreme because neither extreme would produce a realistic, thoughtful strategy to reduce the budget deficit. Only a centrist approach can get us there.
It seems to me that until we get more of our politicians willing to come to the middle, there’s not going to be any common ground from which to work. And until ordinary people (the voters) encourage politicians to come toward the middle, the politicians will be more inclined to listen to those loudest voices who are trying to pull them toward the extremes.