Contra Yeats, the center is definitely holding—at least if you are President Barack Obama.
Politico today lays out Obama’s apparent strategy to hold the American political center by co-opting Republican moderates and leaving what’s left of the Republican Party at the mercy of its Southern and far-right elements. Exhibit A is the recent appointment of a moderate Republican congressman (John McHugh of New York) for Army secretary.
[I]t’s also hard to find a choice better calibrated to meet the Obama administration’s political imperatives. All at once, Obama has selected a nominee who burnishes his bipartisan credentials, opened up a seat prime for Democratic pickup and drained the GOP reservoir of one of the few remaining Northeastern moderates. It’s an event that’s happening with enough frequency to suggest the presence of a design, a plan that not only sketches the outline of a reelection strategy but manages to drive a wedge into the opposition at the same time. Call it a Sherman’s March in reverse—an audacious attempt by Obama to burn down any lines of escape for Republicans from their one refuge of popularity, the deep South.
This is all well and good for Obama and Democrats, and is even arguably a triumph for contemporary centrist politics, but it makes me wonder what happens to the country in a time of extremity. Should the Democrats be embroiled in scandal, or should there be a major terrorist incident which Democrats handle poorly, or should the economy fail to revive, the electorate would be in the position of having to choose between an unpopular political party and one suffused primarily with energy from far-right extremists and religious theocrats.
Ironically, a victory for centrism today could result, say, a decade from now, in the electoral revival of the authoritarian right. Translation: A government even more extreme and prepared to leap into torture policies and wars than was George Bush’s and Dick Cheney’s.
I thus read this quote from the Politico article not especially enthusiastically, but as a double-edged sword:
“Boxing the Republicans into a South-dominated party is very good strategy, because the more you reduce the Republican Party, the more conservative and reactionary it will become, and thus less attractive to moderates,” said Tom Schaller, a University of Maryland-Baltimore County professor and the author of “Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South.”
But what happens if moderates become sympathetic to authoritarian politics as a way out of a large national impasse? They’ll have someplace to go, won’t they?