In the political war of extremes, it seems like we’re setting up for one of the more divisive elections in recent memory, and yet perhaps also one of the most hopeful. For once the debate isn’t just about running to the center, which means we have an unusual opportunity to see where we actually are.
All things being equal, I think a large group of voters would prefer a centrist president. But of course all things are not equal. The middle-of-the-road candidates on the right don’t get attention anymore, and Hillary is losing a lot more ground to Bernie than she’d like while trying to argue that middle-of-the-road is more realistic. Unfortunately, moderates on the right and the left both are all suffering from one major problem: the centerline isn’t where they think it is.
I sympathize—when the road is covered in snow and ice, you can’t see the centerline. You have an idea of where the lanes are, but you mostly have to guess. Maybe you can’t even see ahead much. And the far right has spent the past decade doing everything they can to make the visibility worse.
Obama ran on a platform of hope and change, turned out to be mostly centrist, and got vilified by the far right regardless. Romney ran against Obama as a moderate Republican, lost big, and now all the moderate Republicans are losing big in the primaries to demagogues like Trump and Cruz. Not content to redefine Obama’s centrism as leftist, the far right decided to label him far left, throwing around “socialism” like an epithet and vowing to block his every move. They spat and whined and hollered loud enough to drown out quieter, more sober voices, and now even those who might prefer to be moderates are swinging right in an attempt to get traction.
Driving up here in New England, I know what it’s like to lose traction. You’re going along, doing fine, and suddenly you feel a sickening lurch. The car is pointing one way and moving another, and you have to think slow and act fast and keep your wits. Conventional wisdom is that the first thing you do is steer into the skid—because you need that momentum to grab the pavement again. But you only follow the skid for a second, because you still need to steer, and you still need to get back in control.
I think Obama, and Liberals, and moderate Republicans, and Progressives, and Libertarians, have all been steering into the skid for far too long.
A little compromise gets you a little traction, but the far right is made up of icy-hearted ideologues who think the only good government is government upside-down on fire in a ditch. When the wheels spin futilely, they like it. When steering does nothing, they count it as a win. And so I think Republicans and Democrats both have been steering into the skid, but the far right is ripping out the guardrails, stepping on the gas, and cheering them on.
Which is why I’m not going with a middle-of-the-road candidate. We’re not in the middle anymore; we’re heading for the ditch. I don’t want someone who’s going to hang on to the wheel and try to make some minor corrections and hope nothing goes too far askew. I want someone who knows how to drive in the snow and goes into it with snow tires and experience. I want someone clear-headed enough to turn the wheel.