You know you’re in trouble when other people start referring to you in Sarcastic Capitalized Phrases. (More)
It happened to me last night. I was in my office at Árbol Squirrel, working on my thesis in 21st Century Political Nuttitude, when Nancy chittered to her twin sister Michelle, “Uh oh. Dad’s getting Grumpy Again. Next he’ll want More Macadamias.”
Yes, I heard the capital letters. I also realized the girls were right and it was time to put my research away and join the family for a Relaxing Family Board Game. (Note to the designers: Twigs And Branches would be a much more relaxing game without that “Oops! Lost your nuts!” square. Just sayin’.)
So I knew the would-be third party Americans Elect had been cast into Pundit Purgatory when pundits began referring to other pundits who supported Americans Elect as “Very Serious Men” and suggesting those pundits file to run on a “Very Serious Ticket.”
The underlying story is that “no candidate has reached the national support threshold required to enter the ‘Americans Elect Online Convention’ this June,” despite the fact that AE qualified for the ballot in 27 states and had a bankroll over $20 million. The party rules required only that candidates draw 1000 online votes in at least 10 states. No one met that bar, and none of the hoped-for big names – Jon Huntsman, Olympia Snowe, Joe Lieberman, Mike Bloomberg, Lamar Alexander, etc. – wanted to run on the AE ticket.
The deeper story is the Myth of the Missing Political Center, as the New York Times‘ Paul Krugman wrote yesterday:
So why Americans Elect? Because there exists in America a small class of professional centrists, whose stock in trade is denouncing the extremists in both parties and calling for a middle ground. And this class cannot, as a professional matter, admit that there already is a centrist party in America, the Democrats – that the extremism they decry is all coming from one side of the political fence. Because if they admitted that, they’d just be moderate Democrats, with no holier-than-thou pedestal to stand on.
The Myth of the Missing Political Center is premised on the Myth of the Socialist Democratic Party. That latter myth, pushed by Republicans, insists that President Obama and today’s Democratic Party are – in Mitt Romney’s words – like “Old-school liberals [who] saw a problem and thought a government-run program was the answer. Obamacare is the fulfillment of their dreams.”
Except that the Affordable Care Act is based on private insurance, the same kind of program Romney ushered in as Governor of Massachusetts and in 2009 boasted “could help Washington find [a health care solution].” In fact, the ACA is almost identical to a 1993 proposal by Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee.
Indeed on issue after issue, President Obama and the Democratic Party have favored market-based economic solutions, for which they have drawn criticism from actual socialists. Meanwhile, Republicans extol ‘free markets’ while at the same time saying “Let the private sector determine the winners and losers, and then – when somebody is successful – then you give them the subsidies and the tax credit.” Whatever ‘the American center’ might be, it’s not about “coddling the super-rich.”
Yes, Americans are concerned about federal taxes, federal spending, and the federal deficit. So are Democrats, and in fact taxes, spending, and the deficit – relative to Gross Domestic Product – have all been cut under President Obama:
In fact, Democrats’ claiming the political center has driven Republicans off the right edge:
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.
Americans Elect failed because its core premise is the Myth of the Missing Political Center. The U.S. already has a centrist party. As Dr. Krugman concluded:
The large number of people who believe in all the good stuff the centrists claim to favor are, you know, going to vote for Obama.
Maybe I should send More Macadamias to those Very Serious People.
Good day and good nuts.