Centrism and the GOP
The other day I was alerted to a new group called The Centrist Movement which is another effort by well-meaning individuals to fix our broken two-party system. There is a lot to like in their platform. The high-level view reads:
“Keep the Republican belief in personal responsibility; the respect for wealth creation and the power of markets; the healthy skepticism of what government can and cannot accomplish; and the recognition that taxes and regulation come with an economic toll.
Toss aside the oversimplified view that government is always bad and that lower taxes are always good; the sad and reckless denial of climate change; and the outmoded views on social policy, particularly gay marriage, that are antithetical to the whole notion of keeping government out of our private lives.
Keep the Democrats’ concern for working people; the commitment to a strong social safety net and social tolerance; and the recognition that government must play a crucial role in protecting us from the most egregious abuses of capitalism, including environmental damage.
But ditch the policies that are necessary solely to win a Democratic primary, not fix the country: an overly cozy relationship with the largest unions, particularly the teachers unions; an unwillingness to address the looming costs of our entitlement programs; an unseemly populism that too often treats the forces of wealth creation as a problem rather than a solution.
The Centrists will be fiscally sensible, socially progressive, and committed to the kinds of compromises that will appeal to the tens of millions of voters, particularly younger voters, who are currently without a political home.”
As one digs further into their specific policy proposals it seems much of their platform can be attributed to a plan to fix the Republican party and create something that I would more accurately call center-right. As this lines up nicely with my own positions I find no fault there. Where I do feel myself shaking my head is when I think about what this implies about our current parties.
When people talk negatively about the current GOP there are of course many complaints, however two stand out to me: same-sex marriage and climate change. The reason these seem more prominent is that there is a sense among opponents that there is simply no room for debate and the GOP is woefully out of touch on both. There is a growing sense that the majority of the American public has already decided on same-sex marriage and we are just waiting for the rest of the country to catch up or die off. The GOP is very slowly coming in line but unfortunately they will lose the PR battle with history, much like they did on civil rights. I have mixed feelings about this because of my own personal evolution on the issue but at the end of the day, when Republicans are judged harshly on this issue it will be because too many of them cited religion in this debate and refused to consider changing their minds even in the face of overwhelming facts supporting the other side.
With climate change the Left has accepted this as gospel but there is much less certainty among the general public. Even for those who will admit there is some kind of climate problem, the complicated issue of how to regulate emissions and not harm the economy creates a science vs. business situation which benefits no one. Still, there is a growing sense even among skeptics that something must be done to curb dependence on the same fossil fuels that have led to this debate in the first place. As the party most in touch with business concerns, I join the chorus of people wishing the GOP would lead and not obstruct on this topic.
Beyond these hot button issues there is plenty for people to disagree with the GOP on regarding other issues but from my vantage point I see a much less organized opposition. To the contrary, there are many topics where the GOP lines up closer to public opinion than their Democrat counterparts. For example, their support for gun rights had widespread agreement as does their stances on immigration and education. My own positions have remained fairly ‘fluid’ since the 2012 election, so I am not saying I agree or disagree with any of the current GOP platform, but I think it would be incorrect to generalize it as wholly unpopular.
When I see groups like Centrist Movement trying to tug the GOP towards the middle I cannot help but think this means the GOP isn’t in as much trouble as it has felt like in the last 4-5 years. It still seems like we live in a center-right country and Republicans simply need to move on a few key issues to regain some of their lost support. Mark Thompson correctly pointed out the obstacle to this approach in his post on Thursday.
“The GOP’s refusal to compromise on anything the last few years becomes much easier to understand when put in this context – it cannot be expected to compromise with Democrats when its own positions are already compromises amongst the GOP’s own constituencies.”
This alludes to what many of us on the Right already know, which is that there is much more nuance on our side of the aisle than others give us credit for. In light of this need to keep the coalition together, I agree with Mark’s assessment completely that it is too risky for Republicans to make the compromises that groups like the Centrist party would like to see. In that unfortunate situation, the best they can hope for is a slow moderation on those topics, the kind that only comes with patience. It is the reality of conservatism that it moves slowly and that is both appealing to some and incredibly frustrating for others.