29 Dec 2010

One Moderate’s Outline of a New Politically Centrist Party

To a non-ideologue, none of the established political parties out there are appealing. They have their ideology, entrenched interests and a few other flaws, e.g. political donors asking for what they want.

For a pragmatic realist, the ideal political centrist party might look something like this:

  • Pragmatic and grounded in reality because ideology distorts reality, limits creative thinking and usually delivers failure, which is what we have lots of at the moment.
  • Strong enough to reject special interest money and “campaign contributions”.
  • Committed to find and implement policies, when it can be done, based on honest cost-benefit analysis using unspun data (not using the vacuous smoke and mirrors normally used by special interests, including the Democratic and Republican parties, labor unions, business interests and all the rest).
  • Committed to shrewd and intelligent use of government to foster America’s economic global competitiveness as opposed to the usual blind and inefficient reliance on government by many Democrats or the blind and inefficient hate of government by many Republicans; if this means more government or regulation, then fine and if it means less, that’s fine too.
  • Committed to maximizing transparency of government operations, particularly interactions between public and private sector special interests (for example, by requiring all contacts between lobbyists and government officials to be made public to the extent it is reasonable).
  • Committed to reestablishing the draft (or a draft/public service peacetime option), with no exemptions for anyone (particularly children of wealthy people and politicians), to limit the hideous penchant of our politicians, especially Republicans, to send our troops into unnecessary (Iraq) and incompetently conducted (Iraq and Afghanistan) but unfunded wars (if it is your kids going to war, then maybe you will be (i) just a bit less supportive of getting into a war unless it is really, really necessary and (ii) just a bit less tolerant of incompetent civilian leadership).
  • Committed to requiring, except in the case of a true emergency (not a smoke and mirrors emergency that politicians always conjure out of nothing), that major spending programs, e.g., wars and health care programs, are at least 70-80% paid for by tax increases and/or spending cuts before one penny is spent.
  • Committed to a brutally honest but fair assessment of our public education system and if the best option appears to be privatizing it, then working to implement privatization or at least creating competition between privatized and public schools (because our public education system is in failure mode).
  • Committed to allowing as much personal freedom as society can reasonably accommodate, e.g., legalized abortion, legalized same sex marriage and legalized marijuana (maybe other drugs, depending on a careful but fair cost-benefit public health and economic analysis).
  • Committed to reducing the influence of religion in government including the military, e.g., by vigorously fighting to maintain as much separation between church and state as possible; religion should not have much of a role in a secular democracy; if people want more religion in government, they should first carefully and honestly consider interesting places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Ecuador or the Vatican City – be careful about what you wish for because you just might get it and find that you don’t like it.
  • Committed to showing the American public the awful scope and depth of the failures of our political institutions, especially the Democratic and Republican parties, and most of our political policies since the end of World War II (nobody can blame our messes on the Libertarians, Greens, Nazis or Communists).
  • Committed to reworking our tax code to make it simple and transparent, while phasing out tax loopholes and breaks immediately or over a few years if a cost-benefit analysis shows they are economically not beneficial (the cost to the US economy for mere tax compliance is in the neighborhood of $200 billion per year; needless loopholes cost at least another $100 billion per year (probably about $200 billion) – all of that is wasted effort and weakens our economic competitiveness).
  • Committed to implementing public financing of elections to the maximum extent allowed by law – this is the only politically possible counterweight to at least partly offset the corruption of politics by special interest money.
  • Committed to ending (or vastly reducing) America’s dependence on foreign energy, which is a true and urgent national security crisis, by the the most efficient and reliable means now available based on a transparent and brutally honest cost-benefit analysis (meaning it probably isn’t going to be building wind farms or solar panel factories, it probably is going to be nuclear power) (for every $10 increase in the cost of a barrel of oil, our economy has to pay about an additional $200 billion per year, mostly to our enemies – that is another unsustainable and stupid burden on our competitiveness).
  • Committed to use public funds to implement a national energy independence strategy, e.g., by building nuclear power plants if that is what makes sense, even if it means using eminent domain to sweep aside the screaming NIMBY folks (and private property rights freaks) and waiving every environmental regulation there ever was (like President W. did when he was building the US-Mexico border fence); then provide that energy to our economy at cost and in direct competition with private sector energy providers none of whom care much about the American economy or people (there is nothing like a little competition to focus business interests and reduce costs, at least that is what Adam Smith thought).
  • Committed to immediate conversion, for new employees at least, of public sector employee retirement fixed benefit pensions to the wonderful but often useless 401K type plans the rest of us private sector folks enjoy; don’t you just love those “flash crashes” that blow out a chunk of your 401K in about 35 minutes – you can safely bet that most public sector employees don’t ever face that kind of real world risk; it time to have them face the same reality we face.
  • Committed to fostering conversion of public sector employees from unionized to not unionized.
  • Committed to returning essentially all American troops from Japan, Europe, South Korea, and all of the Middle East as soon as reasonably practical, i.e., within about 2 years (the second world war is over and our allies have recovered and can take care of themselves; the Middle East can and will do what it wants because our troops can’t stop them; you can see the civil war coming to poor forlorn Iraq – it is only a matter of time before the blood starts flowing again).

The list could go on for a while, e.g., fixing bad infrastructure, etc. The point is that what we have now is a lot of failure. Some of the things on the list have more than a little to do with that failure, e.g., corruption of politics and politicians by special interest money. Despite the fury of the November elections, it is now apparent that nothing much new is on the political horizon.

However, one must wait to see what the Tea Party folks might do differently once they get settled into power in January. If they can get past their blinding political and religious ideology and act like pragmatic realists, then maybe they will be helpful. If not, then probably not.

Author Details
This centrist community blogger has chosen not to reveal much about themselves in their bio – as is their right.
This centrist community blogger has chosen not to reveal much about themselves in their bio – as is their right.

8 thoughts on “One Moderate’s Outline of a New Politically Centrist Party”

  1. Hi Michael –

    As I read this, I see (as a liberal Democrat) things that seem to be the Democratic party platform.

    I think reinstating the draft is problematic (not that I disagree that we should have it) for political reasons; and there are other quibbles, but it seems you set up a false equivalence between the sins of the Democrats and the sins of the GOP. Neither is blameless, but it's clear one party bears the lion's share of the blame for our current debt, deficit, and economic collapse based on deregulation. (It's the last one, I'd say, on which the Democrats are most culpable.)

    So your "Center" party is a Democratic party that's a little less left than Democrats most of the time, and a little more left of them some of the time, and then willing, as well, to hit some third rail issues.

    On a purely practical level, wouldn't it make more sense to try to nudge the Democratic party and work to educate the electorate on the issues, as opposed to the "pox on both your houses" attitude you display (but then undercut by having so many planks that resemble Democratic ones)?

    1. Thanks for your comments. I am puzzled that you think that my suggestion to (1) convert public employee pensions away from fixed benefit is Democratic and (2) deunionize the public sector. Unless I am misinformed, the Democrats supported that and unions in general. Presumably, unions would oppose both of those suggestions to the death. Are you sure I am a Democrat? I didn't think that I was. I thought I was a pragmatist.

      My problem is simple: I have no faith in the Democratic party. Nor do I believe that it can be reformed any time soon, if ever. It is dominated by (1) hard core activists who have given their time in good faith to what they believe is a good cause (they are good people, but will never step aside) and, more importantly, (2) special interests with money (both businesses and labor unions who will also never step aside). I believe that the Democratic party, like the Republicans, cannot be reformed in any meaningful way. Sorry. I have zero faith in the two party system and the two parties. My opinions are based, among other things, on decades of dealing with federal agencies and a few years as a federal employee. Both the Democratic and Republican parties are corrupt and both failed. If you think they succeeded, try looking at it from a bit broader point of view.

      Do not label me as a Democrat or a Republican. I am neither. I reject both as inept and corrupt failures. I want something new, not "reform" of the old. I want transparency, solid logic and shrewd implementation of policies that can defend our standard of living and our way of doing things.

      If my suggestions sound Democratic or Republican, I can't help that. It is the way you see the world. I only look for what works efficiently, reasonably (in balance with the things that really count like business interests, the environment, personal freedoms, the public's general welfare) and is humane. I advocate for the public interest as I see it, not any special interest.

      Sometimes what Democrats or their ideology want makes sense (is the best we can do). Sometimes what Republicans want makes sense. Sometimes compromise makes sense. However, what neither wants can also make sense, but is never offered as an option. It depends on the public interest, as I define it, not as any special interest defines it.

      Maybe you can see that from my point of view, which I assume you will reject, trying to reform what we have does not make sense. That's fine. We all have our opinions. I may be wrong, but I don't think so. But, at least now you have some idea of where I am coming from.

  2. This is some really good thinking about this question. I'm currently thinking about the same question, as I write a book on how a centrist party & movement should and could coalesce and move forward. (I can still use a publisher!)

    In my current approach, I am thinking about which points on my list are more or less indispensable, and which points less so. The more specific points you have, the fewer people willing to sign on as activists, because they have more opportunity to identify points of disagreement.

    To address just one specific point, a draft — this is squarely in conflict with your other principle of allowing people as many personal freedoms as possible. Also, I know a lot of left-centrists who used to be left-wingers until they did Americorps and saw a lot of well-intentioned, marginally useful or nearly useless projects.

    Keep it up!

    1. Your point about the apparent conflict between the draft and personal freedoms is interesting and reasonable. My view on it is nuanced.

      Part of the balance is going to war and staying in war vs. personal freedom. When we drain our treasury of hundreds of billions of dollars for endless wars that we probably cannot "win" does that impact personal freedom? Think carefully about that. Does asking people to serve their country a couple of years ask too much in terms of personal sacrifice and freedom? Is putting the brakes on war and its conduct by requiring everyone (particularly children of politicians and the rich) a sufficient counterweight to loss of personal freedoms? What should Americans do for their country – just obey the law and pay taxes? These things are not black and white. We do not know the ultimate cost of our current wars. They are not over yet.

      My sense is that, much as I do not like the suggestion, it seems that it is time to reinstate a draft. That will get out our troops out, right now. And, it will make it much harder to get into wars.

      Regarding your point about the more you say the more there is to disagree with is correct. However, I have worked with folks who are reluctant to step out and say what they stand for. They are getting nowhere. When I advocate for political change, I acknowledge that I will probably lose the bulk of the partisans and special interests. If so, that's fine. I would rather go down and fail while fighting for the public interest than trying to avoid offending partisans and ideologues. I am talking to people who are reasonable and unhappy with the status quo. They may be willing to consider real political change. The others never will. In my opinion, they simply cannot be convinced.

  3. Thanks for you time and comments. You apparently are someone with more than average concern for the public welfare. IMHO, that is a good thing.

    My opinions fundamentally differ from the Democratic party. And, I have lost faith in the Democratic party and I do not want to work for change from within it. My suggestions for politics ignores what Democratic (or Republican) ideology wants. I want what is efficient, shrewd, humane and in the American public interest. That is how I differ from the Democrats. They failed just, like the Republicans.

  4. Michael –
    Thanks for your response (and sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

    My point wasn't that you seem like a lockstep Democrat (whatever that is), but that as you go down your list, many more of your "wish list" positions are embraced by the Democratic party than the republicans. I completely understand your frustration with the actual Democratic party – and I think the reason it can't be trusted is directly related to the way campaigns are financed these days – and Democrats have base interest groups (unions – public & private, trial lawyers) that they rely on for cash. Republicans are slaves to their own major financiers, too – which tend to push them further away from your agenda than the Democrats funders do.

    I think real public financing of elections (along with the reversal of Citizens United) would be the single largest pieces in making both parties accountable. However, my assumption, given how organizations work, is that any successful third party movement would ultimately succumb to the perverse incentives of our political system.

    I'm not trying to label you, o insult you – I'm merely pointing out that your center is closer to one of the parties than the other, and that the failures of that party have a lot to do with how they are forced to stay in (or regain) power.

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