The appeal of the outliers
Some interesting comments have been appearing across the Internet, the gist of which is refers to the curious weakness of the American political center. Caroline Glick, writing at Townhall says, "Ten years after Bill Clinton's impeachment; seven years after President George W. Bush's contested victory in 2000; and five years into the Iraq campaign, the cleavages both between the two major parties and within them have given purchase to candidates and policies that would have previously never made it out of the starting gate. ... The open race, unprecedented in recent history, is a consequence of the fragmentation of America's political center."
What surprises some pundits is the sheer power of candidates who only some years ago would have been judged to inhabit the fringes. An academic conference scheduled for the middle of this year will attempt to analyze the power of extremist positions in the current political debate.
So, if the largest plurality of citizens in the United States claims to be moderate or middle-of-the-road or centrist, should not moderates dominate the political discourse? The short answer is “apparently not.” For if centrist forces were dominant in American politics today, we would have a very different political environment than the one we face as the 2008 presidential election approaches.
The goal of this conference is to address the seemingly anomalous situation within which public policymaking is undertaken in the United States, wherein the dominant political actors in the federal policymaking process are representatives of the more extreme elements of both of the major political parties, while the largest plurality of citizens adheres to neither of the underlying political ideologies of those parties and, in particular, of their leaders.
Roger Simon, who once observed that the majority of Americans liked to think of themselves as nonpartisan, wondered about the persistent staying power of Ron Paul. "I find it quite scary that Ron Paul continues to do relatively well at the polls, despite the numerous revelations about him and his cohorts. Paul is quite clearly a liar, but this continues to be ignored for the most part by the mainstream media - who give Paul a pass and have not really confronted him at any of the debates - and clearly by many of his adherents, who either choose to ignore or not just not hear the allegations against him."
The current Presidential race does have sober candidates who are known quantities. As Tigerhawk says, "What I find most important is that the Republicans have offered up 3 genuine 'heavyweights.' You can like or dislike them, agree or disagree, but each of McCain, Giuliani and Romney are serious, capable people in their respective histories and careers. They all have records of significant accomplishment. Their resumes are not phony or manufactured. I can envision any of them as President of the United States -- something I cannot say of any of the balance of the candidates from either party."
But what's interesting is how difficult it has been for these heavyweights to dominate the field. They should have left the rest behind by now, yet haven't. And there's a good chance that none of the heavyweights will make it to the White House at all. As Glick put it, "Barack Obama has a good chance of securing his party's nomination for president and winning the general election. And this is disturbing because like Paul, he enjoys the support of hateful bigots. And like Paul and Huckabee, he holds foreign policy positions which are based on the notion that the global jihad is not a serious threat." The center may be where all the voters are, but there's a significant chance that in some sense, it cannot hold. What could explain it?
The maintenance of "good enough" is a thankless task. Anyone with a steady but repetitive job knows how the urge to make a change grows in proportion to one's boredom. And there's not even Osama to enliven the party. One reason why the "global jihad" is not considered a serious issue by many voters is that there have been no significant attacks on America in nearly seven years. But on the other hand there have bee no great breakthroughs either. If great catastrophes, reverals etc have been absent, missing too has been the sense of exhilarating possibility. Washington is business as usual; illegal immigration is business as usual. Complacency is when people think nothing can go wrong; frustration occurs when people believe nothing can happen. Gusts from the extremes are greatest when the center is becalmed.