After serving as America’s political doormat for almost two decades, there are signs that the country’s moderate near-majority is bestirring itself to fight for national sanity.
The bipartisan group No Labels (which won’t even label itself “moderate”) is trying to reform the utterly dysfunctional Congress.
And, even more ambitiously, another bipartisan group, Americans Elect, could put a centrist presidential candidate on the ballot in 50 states this November to offer a choice other than President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger.
These groups join two think tanks, the Bipartisan Policy Center and Third Way, which develop “grand bargain” solutions to America’s problems that Republicans and Democrats, so far, refuse to adopt.
Exit polls for the 2008 presidential election showed that fully 44 percent of the electorate defined itself as moderate, while 34 percent were conservative and 22 percent liberal.
In off years, conservatives sometimes inch past moderates, but exits in every presidential election for 20 years have shown that a plurality of Americans are moderate.
Yet, lacking a unified voice (or a party), moderates get torn at election time between a Republican Party moving ever further right (lately, off the charts) and a Democratic Party dominated by big- government liberals.
Conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats in Congress can’t agree on anything except occasionally to kick big-problem cans down the road to avoid an imminent fiscal or political catastrophe, usually adding to the national debt in the process.
And the hard core of each party systematically freezes out its moderates, who are the likeliest to be defeated in primaries or general elections — or to quit in frustration, as Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) just did.
As No Labels summarizes the situation on its website, “the government in Washington is no longer capable of solving the very real problems facing America.
“Before every election, our politicians make promises about how they will fix our tax system. Our immigration laws. Our schools. Our budget issues.
“But after every election, these promises are crushed under the weight of poisonous rhetoric and hyper-partisanship.”
No Labels declares: “The American people have had enough.”
That group — whose founders include former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), former Reps. Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.), Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Mike Castle (R-Del.), former Clinton White House aides Bill Galston and Don Baer and former George W. Bush administration adviser Mark McKinnon — is pushing a list of 12 Congressional reforms.
They include getting Members of different parties to sit together at joint sessions, which happened for the latest State of the Union (but accomplished little), requiring real filibusters in the Senate and up-or-down votes on nominations and stopping Congressional pay if budgets are not passed on time.
(The No Labels reforms do not include my favorite, suggested by former Democratic National Committee Executive Director Mark Siegel: adoption by states of the New Hampshire primary model allowing independents to vote in either party’s primary, encouraging moderation.)
But, as absolutely necessary as Congressional reforms are, it’s the president who sets the tone and substance of government.
Or, as former Comptroller General David Walker puts it: “Congress is a committee, and you can’t get anything important done by committee. It takes a president to lead.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.