Note to readers: When we learned that Charles Wheelan—former Economist reporter and author of Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science—was about to publish a new book, The Centrist Manifesto, we wanted to hear more. He kindly agreed to write a blog post sharing his vision for a new Centrist Party. Agree? Disagree? Please comment on our Facebook page to let us know what you think about Wheelan’s proposal.
Who matters most in the current Supreme Court? Anthony Kennedy, because he represents the court’s political center and is the swing vote in most 5-4 decisions.
Yet just across town in the Capitol, the opposite force is at play: the extremes in each party hold the most power and the political middle has been neutered. I’ve just written The Centrist Manifesto (W.W. Norton), which presents a strategy for empowering America’s pragmatic middle: Let’s elect a handful of centrists to the U.S. Senate.
America faces a series of policy challenges that require pragmatic solutions: the federal budget situation; the unsustainable cost of entitlements; climate change; underinvestment in infrastructure; and so on. These are the issues that the Common Sense Coalition has addressed in a constructive way.
Now we need institutional change to implement those pragmatic ideas. The Centrist Manifesto, which was released on April 19, lays out a strategy for making it happen. As a supporter of the Common Sense Coalition’s pragmatic approach to better governance, I invite you to consider the following plan
First, we must create a new political party of the middle, the Centrist Party, to represent the largest, fastest-growing, and most frustrated segment of American voters: pragmatic moderates who are fed up with the unyielding ideologues of the left and right.
The Centrist Party need not be a mush of compromises between extreme positions. It should take the best of each party and ditch the nonsense.
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.
Second, we must mobilize our resources to elect four or five Centrist U.S. senators.
One quirky feature of the American electoral system is that a U.S. Senate candidate needs only 34 percent of the votes to win. A Centrist candidate could win 34 percent of the votes in a lot of states, particularly after the Republican and Democratic candidates have pandered to their respective bases to win a primary.
Imagine the U.S. Senate with 47 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and 5 Centrists. At that point, the Centrists would wield extraordinary influence, just like Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.
The Centrists would be the intellectual center of the Senate, like a permanent Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission, offering a pragmatic starting point for the negotiations on any issue. They would be the vessel for introducing the kinds of policies embraced by the Common Sense Coalition. And since the Centrists would hold the swing votes for everything the federal government does, those ideas would demand attention.
Will any of this be easy? Of course not. But what I’ve described is really nothing more than political innovation. When something is broken in America, we usually rush to fix it. Why should politics be any different?
To join our effort, you can find us here: