Katrina vanden Heuvel makes a good point about some bad framing in the healthcare debate–the ‘centrists’ aren’t in the center at all:
Even a good regional paper like Louisville’s Courier-Journal– in rightly blasting the Blue Dogs as “deplorable” for being “unable to muster the spine to pay for health care reform with even so innocuous a measure as higher taxes on the richest 1 percent of Americans”–calls them “centrist”.
The danger is that promoting the view that these conservative Democrats are somehow at the center of our politics plays into the hands of those who would like to marginalize progressives as far outside of the mainstream. (And I have no doubt K Street is advising Republicans to constantly refer to their Democratic allies as “moderate” and “centrist”.) It also misrepresents what most Americans want from the government in these times.
As Drew Westen, professor of psychology at Emory University, founder of Westen Strategies, and author of the invaluable The Political Brain, told me: “The average American, according to all available data, has largely moved slightly left of where it was in the Reagan years, and with changing demographics, it will be far left of Reagan and Bush in twenty years. So to call Democrats who are substantially right of the center of the electorate (let alone of their party), like Heath Shuler, ‘moderates,’ is both to misrepresent the center of political gravity in the general electorate and in the Democratic Party.”
How we tell the story of this battle for health care reform matters and will impact whether the battle is won or lost. So-called “centrists” are far from the center of this debate. They are, in fact, out of touch and out of the mainstream — like the rest of their conservative brethren.
Whether the ‘center’ is actually a desirable thing or not is highly questionable: allowing the South to maintain segregation was ‘centrist’ at one point. The center isn’t always correct (or even correct much of the time). But if you are going to claim the mantle of the ‘center’, at the very least, you should not oppose a policy like the public option in healthcare that is supported by three quarters of Americans. That’s not centrist–as vanden Heuvel reminds us, it’s rightwing. And it’s definitely not where the country is.