Centrist Compromise May Be Our Last Hope

Alan Zendell, June 11, 2021

Although it’s been looking grim lately, all hope is not yet lost that the partisan impasse in Congress can be broken. That’s not to say that salvation from congressional gridlock is at hand, but why not bask in a ray of hope while we can?

I have believed for years that only way our democratic system can survive in the long term is if a strong centrist element forced those at the extremes to compromise, and with the war for control of the Republican presently underway between true Conservatives and Trumpers, that task is both more critical and difficult. Take the Senate, for example. What if a block of ten centrist leaning Senators refused to be bullied by tea partiers, Trumpers, progressives, or Ilhan Omar? What if they demanded to be heard and held out until one or both extremes realized that getting part of what they want is better than nothing? What if the loudest, angriest, wealthiest voices weren’t the only ones we heard?

Yesterday, a group of ten Senators, five Democrats and five Republicans announced that they had agreed on a $1.2 trillion compromise infrastructure bill that focused entirely on physical infrastructure. It would leave things like universal internet access for all Americans still just an aspiration, but let’s focus on the positive. If their bill were to pass as is, fewer freeway bridges would collapse and plunge unsuspecting motorists into canyons and rivers, fewer potholes and less crumbling pavement would prevent countless accidents, and several million good jobs would be created throughout the country. Those jobs would be in every region, urban, suburban, and rural, and through the magic of political accounting, the fight over tax rates would be averted or at least kicked down the road.

That would be nice, but it would be only a first step toward fixing what’s wrong in America. It would be an essential first step that demonstrates party leaders’ control over their caucuses is not absolute, something that needs to be true if our system is to be workable again. It might also poke a giant hole in the myth that the phrase “two-party system” is synonymous with American democracy.

There was a time when we mocked nations with parliamentary governments in which as many as ten political parties constantly vied for power. In the turbulent years of the Cold War, countries like Italy couldn’t form governments that were lasted more than a year or two. In those days Americans were smugly confident that our way was superior, that democracy meant getting rid of kings, autocrats, and parliaments, and having a stable two-party system. But we know from experience that you can only sit on a two-legged stool if it’s perfectly balanced in equilibrium. You’re much less likely to break your neck on one with three legs or four.

One result of the pandemic has been that when streaming services ran out of American and British programming content, we experienced television dramas produced in other countries. In several of them we got an up-close look at how multi-party governments actually function. Two excellent ones that come to mind are Borgen, a realistic, look at how parliament works in Denmark, and Occupied, which takes a close look at how Norway’s government might react to simultaneous crises involving Russia and the rest of the EU. Both left me with an enlightened view of multi-party systems, and convinced me that a viable Centrist party in America could be our only salvation. If you need a real-life example, consider what Israel has been going through as its voters tired of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s extremist policies and corruption, and struggled to form a new coalition government. The process has been ugly, but it’s hard to see how the Israeli government could avoid collapse any other way.

Let us hope that the Centrists (they prefer the term Moderates) in the Senate can establish a beachhead in the fight to reset Congress on the road to bipartisanism. Who are they? The usual suspects, the ones we’ve watched with hopeful eyes for years — Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.). It’s by no means certain that Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer will release the reins of control and allow their caucuses to vote their consciences, but as I suggested at the top, let’s bask in this ray of hope while we can.

If this effort fails, the likelihood of getting a fair voting rights bill, a gun rights reform bill, and a tax structure that’s not rigged to favor the wealthy will drop to about zero.

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