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Centrism Rules

It’s the political philosophy of choice in much of the world right now and it may be the only way the U.S. is going to end political gridlock and make some meaningful and innovative progress amid the daunting economic challenges of the times. Whichever political party captures the centrist mantle gets the keys to the kingdom in 2012.

Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria makes the point in his usual reasoned and immaculately logical prose. He points out that virtually all of Europe has turned to conservative/centrist government. The model built by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair for progressive/centrist government has now been emulated by the right, at least overseas.

Here in the U.S., the battle for the soul of the Republican Party will determine its success in the next Presidential election. If moderation wins the day, Zakaria is correct in saying Barack Obama could face a serious political threat. If the tea party movement and the Sarah Palin-wing of the party prevail, they’ll capture the loyal base and maybe even a good chunk of independent voters, but never enough to win a national election.

If the President recaptures the middle ground he seemed to represent in 2004, he would be better positioned against whoever his challenger may be. But right now, Obama is increasingly not perceived that way by independent voters. The recent off-year elections were a warning.

The health care bill that passed the House over the weekend reflects liberal orthodoxy; well-intentioned but costly. The mountains of debt that have weakened the dollar and shaken the world’s faith in the United States are a real concern for many Americans. Recent polling suggests they fear that whatever health care bill finally emerges is only going to add to exploding deficits. Meantime, the unemployment situation is abysmal and threatens a consumer-based economic recovery. The White House keeps telling us they inherited this mess. To be fair, recent positive GDP figures indicate the administration really did stop an economic freefall. But they run the whole show now and what’s left is their baby, ugly as it is.

Old partisan approaches to these problems inevitably lead to stalemate. That’s what we are seeing now in Washington. Playing from the center creates the possibility of progress because it destroys the partisan paradigm. Innovative concepts that borrow from the power of the marketplace but maintain the regulatory oversight of government can bridge the typical left-right divides.

It strikes me that if he were just brave enough to position himself as the centrist Governor he was in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney could make quite a formidable opponent for President Obama. But I’m betting chief political advisor, David Axelrod will figure out a way to bring the White House back to the middle. It won’t be pleasant for the liberal wing of the party unless it is willing to accept policies and thinking that defy conventional political labels.

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