Re-constituting the Broad Center of American politics

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Soon after we met as graduate students at Emory University in Fall 1989, we were both struck by how similar our observations about state politics were.

One of us would complain about a corrupt, political leader back in our state, a power-lord who was in it for himself and not at all for the people. This would prompt the other to say, “Oh yes, that reminds me of one of our Governors….”

But here was the twist. One of us was a Republican from then-Democratic West Virginia, while the other was a Democrat from Texas, a state moving towards being Republican.

What we learned from our conversations was that corruption knows no single political party.

This was a revelation.

Though we were registered in different political parties, we were able to have any number of public policy and religion discussions, usually finding over 80% agreement.

Today, one of us is center-right, while the other is progressive but trying to escape the left/right dichotomy. We won’t agree on everything, but we still find much overlap on a variety of subjects.

At the very least, we often share common similar concerns about our nation’s problems even if our means to solve them can sometimes be different.

Restoring the Political Center

Nothing is more important to the health of America’s political system than the restoration of our political center. That center has moved this way or that in certain states in recent years.

The key in any state–red or blue–is to strongly encourage voters who want to participate but who do not identify with either party’s extremes.

Both of us have talked with many people across the political spectrum who share our serious concern about the diminishment of the political center in American politics.

This center used to be the largest section of our electorate, and both parties accepted this as the norm.

For example, a generation ago, President Richard Nixon noted that a Republican presidential candidate needed to run to the right during the primaries but then run as fast as possible towards the center after the primaries.

The same was true of any Democratic candidate who wanted their party’s nomination: appeal first to one’s party base, then head for the center in the general election to capture enough voters in the middle.

Now is the time to re-frame the conversation to focus on the shared concerns and values that unite far more than they divide. For many, the left/right cavern may or may not be bridgeable.

However, sufficient common ground may still be found to forge new connections and re-invigorate historical ties on specific and important issues.

The Broad Center plays a crucial role in public policy

In recent years, we have seen many centrist, moderate, and Independent voters disengage from our national and state political process.

They have become turned off by the extreme options given them by both parties, not to mention the bitter rancor and scorched earth tactics that have become commonplace today.

Ironically, even if these more centrist voters feel of little influence, they are likely the only group of voters today who can save our republic from greater peril.

These voters in the Broad Center can moderate the extreme views offered us by the two main parties.

In so doing, those in the Broad Center can play their historic role again, helping public policy efforts to take place gradually, to be tested for their effectiveness before going further.

The Broad Center provided sound compromises, the necessary glue to keep the country together until the next round of elections.

Good news for Centrists

Here is some good news for centrist voters who are thinking about re-entering the political process. First, in many states, registered Independent voters are nearly equal to either of the two major parties. Re-engaged centrists could find common cause with some of this growing group.

Further, the nearly split seen across the country today between the two parties requires only a small percentage of centrist voters in most states to have an outsized impact.

A few thousand new centrist voters in a couple of swing states can change a national election these days. A few hundred can decide state and local contests.

With the return of enough centrists, Republican and Democratic candidates will have to make real appeals to them, too–not just their demanding bases.

Today’s politics is marked by dogmatic extremes wagging the dog. The GOP is currently engulfed in this dogmatism. Moderate Democrats can hear some of the same narrow-minded hoofbeats in their party, too.

You may be part of this Broad Center already

Perhaps you are asking yourself just who is part of this Broad Center in American politics. The answer may include you if you have ever thought that securing half a loaf on a policy issue is better than none.

Perhaps you are more open on some issues than others. You still qualify.

Otherwise, what groups are in this Broad Center?

Now you’ll see why we call it the “Broad Center.” Take a look at this robust sampling of some sizable sub-groups within the new Broad Center we envision:

— Millions of registered Independents

— Openminded voters in both major parties

— All voters who believe in our genius American system of checks and balances–and our three separate and equal branches of government

— Average citizens in the lower and middle classes who wonder what the extremes in both parties really offer them economically

— Parents and grandparents who wonder what kind of negative society their children will inherit.

None of these Broad Center voters need to give up their deep political, social, and spiritual beliefs.

But each of them, regardless of where they are on the political or socio-economic spectrum, has managed to grasp the obvious, namely that we Americans do not live alone.

Instead, we live among others who agree with us sometimes and who disagree with us other times.

As a result, working out meaningful compromises with each other is essential so that life moves forward between often hard-fought elections.

Exchanging pundits for mini-legislators

Thanks to the 24/7 news cycle, we have all become opinionated pundits. Now it’s time to advance to the next level of citizenship.

Instead of simply yelling our views at one another, we need to begin the more thoughtful work of being mini-legislators.

We can learn to hammer out decent agreements in all public policy discussions with each other, large and small. Where do our views intersect?

No settled beliefs need to be sacrificed by anyone along the way. If you can only go so far in a compromise, fine. The other person should respect that, just as you respect their limits, too.

So if you consider yourself practically-minded, get involved at your local and state level and become part of the Broad Center’s leaven in the loaf of your area’s politics.

If you want to create a political climate that is less toxic, no longer brain-dead, and much more creative in finding meaningful compromises, get back in the game.

Your country needs you like never before.

Ken Ramsey is a minister from Texas. Stephen N. Reed is a writer from West Virginia and a former radio host for the West Virginia Radio Corporation. Write to them at: ramseyandreed@gmail.com.

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