Felicia Muftic: Stuck in the middle
June 15, 2010
This campaign year is being defined by the rise of the wings: Tea Party movement on the right and progressives on the left. Both Tea Partyers and some progressives seem determined to throw carefully constructed political strategies of their parties and their leaders under the bus.
They are supporting candidates in statewide primaries who do not buy into their established leaders’ agenda. Tea Partyers are turning off the traditional corporate business-oriented base of the Republican party; some progressives are supporting candidates who are opposing Obama’s more moderate agenda on health care and Wall Street reform. What’s next? A revolt of the middle?
Primaries, such as Colorado’s and mostly elsewhere, are restricted to those who are registered in the party. Primary outcomes usually reflect views that are more liberal or conservative than the electorate as a whole. Most general elections held in states where one party does not dominate are decided by independents and moderates. In Colorado, there are more independents than there are Democrats or Republicans.
With the rise of wing power, moderates are more likely to feel angry because they are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils because either candidate is too extreme.
A little-noticed revolt happened in California this June. Proposition 14 was approved. It eliminates party primaries. Beginning in 2011, there will be two elections: the first one is open to anyone; the second one will be between the two highest vote-getters. Washington State has a similar system. The middle will have more power in the beginning of the election cycle and it will reduce the ability of extreme wings to make an impact.
Voters approved Prop 14 in spite of fears campaign costs would rise and party clout would be diminished. Given voter disgust with political parties, other states with large numbers of registered independents could follow.
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Another kind of revolt of the middle is happening in Florida. Gov. Charlie Crist decided to run as an independent when Tea Party-supported Marco Rubio grabbed the Republican party by criticizing Crist for being photographed and cooperative with the Obama administration. In polls, Crist right now looks like he might even win. Florida may be unique because Crist is a popular incumbent with wide appeal and the Democrat is weak, but Crist’s win could have the effect of dampening enthusiasm for more extremist factions elsewhere.
In the meantime, absent a candidate like Crist or a Prop 14, what can frustrated middle of the roaders do? Here are some suggestions.
Look under the hood of slogans and political ads . Ask some pointed questions. The progressive agenda is detailed and up-front, but Tea Partyers take the prize for lack of specifics. “Take my government back” could mean “take it back from big government” or maybe “take it back from someone who is different than me.”
If candidates promise to cut the size of government without raising taxes, ask them what they plan to cut and to prove it would suffice. Medicare and Social Security will account for 90 percent of the debt within the decade, and they cannot be ignored. Are their solutions privatization or eligibility changes? If another candidate claims we can do it by cutting billions of waste and spending, ask them where it is and ask them why Congress has not done it in the past 20 years.
If the bailout of Wall Street was wrong, what would they have done instead? Lack of action has consequences, too. Criticism of the failure of government to act effectively should put “small government” candidates on the spot.
Listen if they harp that the current and prior administrations’ regulators were asleep on the job, resulting in the Madoff and subprime loan fiasco. Both wings grouse that lax enforcement was responsible for the Gulf Oil spill. So which is it: more or less regulation? In short, demand specifics, not slogans.
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