Home > Politics > Why This Country Needs a New Centrist Party

Why This Country Needs a New Centrist Party

Why This Country Needs a New Centrist Party

                 A three part series 

                             Part One:  Outrage in the Age of Stalemate

Two weeks ago, Tea Party members won some big victories across the country, including right here in New York with Paladino’s victory.   Commentators have treated this event as a radical turn in American politics.  It may well be, because for the first time, Karl Rove and John Boehner seem like moderates, a potential windfall to their images.   

For their part, despite early indications of Tea Party popularity, Democrats are expecting that fear of Tea Party extremism will draw moderates back to their fold and forestall a national electoral calamity this fall.

However, the apparent radicalization of politics by the Tea Party may not necessarily lead to a significant turn in political alignment, but rather a repetition of the cycle that has doomed third parties throughout American history: a quick flame out, and ultimate return of voters back home to the mainstream parties.

The difference this time is that millions of Americans have realized that the main parties do not embody a broad enough home base to return to.    Their moderate centers were hijacked long ago.  For decades they have operated on stalemate-yielding, anger-producing, myth-creating ideologies that have sidelined moderates and crumpled traditional American idealism.    Let’s look at the Republicans first.

Distilled to its essence, Republicans hold that wealth itself, not opportunity, is an inalienable right, and that its acquisition confers conclusive proof of legitimacy. To the radicals of mainstream Republicanism, interference with the manner in which wealth is acquired or disposed of (regulation and taxation)  is all but outside  the proper scope of government and a threat to every freedom-loving man woman and child in America.  This winner-take-all mentality has supplanted the traditional identification of moderate Republicanism with the healthy competition of free enterprise and the primacy of “level playing field”l opportunity.

The Democratic “mainstream” has been similarly radicalized:  it holds that every loser in the transaction of capitalism deserves redress and it is the duty of government to provide it. The pursuit of economic self-interest, although interesting in theory, tends, in practice, to degenerate into greed.  Accordingly, the structures of business should not be left to the invisible hand of the market, but rather, the benevolent morality of governmental planners. These radicals have shifted focus from opportunity to entitlement as the driving force in economic and social policy.

Evidence for the radicalization of political parties lies in the cult-like ferocity with which party partisans treat each other in the corridors of  Congress:  dialog through denunciation, communication through confrontation, insistence on personal infallibility, consistency at all costs, and the equation of rigidity of belief with personal integrity. 

The two parties have so radicalized American politics, that splinter groups professing ideological purity find little ground to stand on.  For instance, none of the Tea Party candidates has policy views very different than mainstream(radical)Republican nostrums on taxes, deficits, regulation and judicial restraint.  In the absence of policy, the only available terrain for them to maneuver is the playing field of outrage.  Tea Partiers, like most fringe groups, are fueled by, and fuel, outrage.   In the age of stalemate, outrage passes for policy, and, for a while at least, masquerades as reason.

Few people, other than political leaders, could get away with this kind of nasty, boisterous and sociopathic conduct.  In our regular lives, we Americans tend to be rather reasonable people:  men and women who confirm our capacity for common decency by everyday acts of grace, modesty and humility, in our homes, at work, and in our communities. This moderation is both our salvation and our dilemma.

 In the past, these “centrist” values have coalesced to beat back the ego bullies, the anger mongers and myth peddlers, and may do so this fall.  But now the danger is that nearly the entire so called “mainstream” political class is characterized by such habits.  Americans are slowly being starved of the oxygen that democracy needs to survive, not by the Tea Party, but by the Republican and Democratic parties.

Idealism, in contrast to the cultish ideologies of our political parties, is a call to action based on the widest possible commonality of beliefs.  The radical ideologies of the parties and their angry offshoots like the Tea Party constrict this vital artery of political circulation by ever more narrow interpretations of our beliefs.

The fact that the political parties thrive on such means compels the question whether the feverish emotional pitch of party warfare is not simply the byproduct of ideological debate but rather a staged conflict to conceal consensus on matters upon which the parties really agree:  protecting the money consolidators—financial services, drug, insurance, telecommunications, and oil companies—who fuel the campaign coffers of Democrats and Republicans alike.  The parties never seem to experience gridlock when the interests of these conglomerates are concerned.  Isn’t it true that most Americans believe that, when it comes to political process, “the fix is in”?

Whether you believe the parties are simply out of control or, quite in control but chose to confuse us by their staged dysfunction in order to better serve elite economic interests, there is no denying this fact:  the current radicalism of mainstream politics breeds outrage which in turn subverts moderation, prolongs stalemate and presages the forfeiture of common goals and purpose.  

So, we are left with this crucial question:    When the Tea Party’s voice of outrage runs its course, will it drive the electorate back to the illusory refuge of moderation represented by the two parties or force a centrist reconstitution of American politics.   The resuscitating air of moderation that has sustained us in earlier times must be injected back into our politics if we are to endure.   

Coming:  Part II  Reviving the Culture of Idealism in America

Stuart Brody is adjunct professor of Ethics and Integrity at SUNY New Paltz, and a former leader of the Democratic Party of New York.   He is working on a book entitled:   The Breaking of the American Heart:  Idealism and the Future  of Integrity in America

  1. J. Davis
    October 4, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Excellent article. We clearly need new-third party, that will state it as it is and act accordingly. Not folding in to all the specility groups. Go for it. JD

  2. October 6, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Dear Mr. Brody,
    As always you articles hit the mark. But I wonder if the elected officials in the Democratic and Republican Parties were not so afraid of voting their party line and rhetoric and voted their conscience things would be a lot different. Yes, I am sure you will respond “when pigs fly”. But fundamentally there is a major flaw in our political system. 1. These elected officials feel that their major reason for being there is to stay being there. If we voted to have our public officials have a limited time in office maybe they, elected officials, would vote more for what was right then to vote for a way to stay in office. From a overall perspective stalemate is what both parties want. They can blame the other party year after year and nothing gets done except keeping themselves in office.
    Just because people have different points of view doesn’t mean that compromise can’t be reached. If a sign could be installed above the House of Representative and the Senate stating “Leave your EGO at the door” They might get the point. There is an every expanding schism between the Dems. & Reps. because the frustration they themselves are creating is making themselves angrier and angrier.

  3. Douglas Boettner
    October 26, 2010 at 9:42 am

    I agree. The two-party system has ran it’s course and both have consumed themselves. The idealism of this country needs to be the driving force of a new party. A party that know compromise for the common good. The American people are looking, nay, yearning, for this type of party.

    Looking forard to the next Part.

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