August 16, 2013 —
One of the things I appreciate about social media sites like Twitter and Facebook is that they expose me to many things that I might otherwise miss. Usually, these items are posted by the people and organizations I follow, but every once in a great while I actually see a relevant and interesting advertisement. The other day, for example, my eye was caught by an ad on Facebook.
“Click ‘Like’ if you are tired of the gridlock in Washington, D.C.” it said.
Well, heck, who’s not tired of that? But before reflexively clicking the link, I thought maybe I should check out the sponsoring organization, which was identified as “Center Forward” (www.center-forward.com ).
As it turns out, the organization is connected with the so-called “Blue Dogs,” the more fiscally conservative wing of the Democratic Party whose presence and influence in Congress have been shrinking of late, and as you might expect their chosen issues and approaches have a narrow range and a very business-friendly emphasis.
There have been many organizations like this cropping up over the past few years, ever since Ross Perot’s Reform Party knocked the system into such a tizzy in 1992. Such organizations try, with varying degrees of success, to leverage America’s disillusionment and disgust with the present state of political discourse by rallying folks around something they call “the center.”
For example, consider the statement that tops Center Forward’s website:
“America is neither right nor left. Republican nor Democrat. Red nor blue. The solutions that will move us forward come from where they always have—the center.”
But what, or where, exactly, is that center? If you think of it as just “the middle of the road,” some position taken up between two extremes, then your definition is going to vary depending on how wide you think that “road” is.
There’s an interesting concept called the “Overton Window,” which describes the range of politically acceptable discourse at any given time. Conservatives have been very successful over the past half-century or so at moving that window to the right, and making it narrower and narrower. So for an outfit like Center Forward, their “center” is actually the center of a fairly restricted set of possibilities.
(And by the way, as far as the “neither right nor left, Republican nor Democrat, red nor blue” part goes, that’s patently false. It’s not that America is “neither one nor the other:” it is, in fact, both. That’s the reality of the situation—and the problem—and the opportunity.)
Maybe we can go deeper. Maybe we can think in terms of our core values, our common interests, our shared goals. The Constitution, after all, begins with a specific list of defining purposes: “…form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Remember? Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be able to agree on what some of those words even mean, much less how to implement them in practice. But thinking in such terms might move us away from ideological wrangling and closer to actual communication and productive cooperation.
Let’s go deeper yet. Let’s consider a very different meaning to the very word “center”—next month.