In case you missed it, the centrist, web-based third party Americans Elect fizzled out in unspectacular fashion last week when it couldn’t garner the 10,000 online votes necessary under its own rules to nominate a single candidate.
AE, proudly devoid of political principle and committed only to process, was the victim of reality. As much as the group would like to have it otherwise, the country’s political system is currently confronted with a series of very simple, though profound, choices. The duality of American politics to which AE objects did not come about coincidentally or by accident. It is very much the product of the proverbial political crossroads at which the country sits.
There is no “third way” when the options are simple yes-or-no questions, or when policies boil down to a simple either-or.
Should Congress reform entitlement programs? Or, put differently, should “Medicare as we know it,” a common political foil, continue to exist?
All serious observers agree that the health care safety net program will go bankrupt in the next decade if left unchanged. So on that issue, the country is faced with a very simply choice: reform Medicare, or don’t reform Medicare. Make it solvent, or don’t. There is no “middle ground” on the issue.
Should Congress hike income taxes, or should current rates be preserved? With a fight over the Bush-Obama tax cuts on the horizon, that is a simple yes-or-no question. Either tax rates increase or they don’t.
Should Americans be required, by virtue of their existence, to purchase comprehensive health insurance? Again, this is a straightforward question with only two possible answers.
In his new book, “The Tyranny of Clichés,” Jonah Goldberg weighs in on the supposedly self-evident virtue of political centrism:
If I say we need one hundred feet of bridge to cross a one hundred-foot chasm that makes me an extremist. Someone else says we don’t need to build the bridge at all because we don’t need to cross the chasm in the first place. That makes him an extremist. The third guy is the centrist because he insists that we compromise by building a fifty-foot bridge that ends in the middle of thin air? As an extremist I’ll tell you that the other extremist has a much better grasp on reality than the centrist does. The extremists have serious disagreements about what to do. The independent who splits the difference has no idea what to do and doesn’t want to bother with figuring it out.
Therein lies the inherent defect of Americans Elect and similar groups. American politics is dominated by questions on which there is no middle ground – either we move in one direction, or we move in the other direction. Political bifurcation in such an environment is completely natural.
Indeed, dodging those questions or insisting that there is a “third way” on any of them is completely nonsensical. Compromise is laudable, but one can only compromise when there is some middle ground. When the choice is the Goldbergian “build the bridge, or don’t build it,” centrism is a worthless political attribute.
Americans should be glad that politicians are crystallizing the present political dilemma, and offering platforms that present meaningful and observable differences on the direction of the country. We are truly at a crossroads, and going in both directions or in none at all is simply not an option.