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New poll shows our desperate need for a political center

MinnPost illustration by Jaime Anderson

A year ago today, as I prepared to watch the inauguration of a president whose unfitness for the job horrifies me, I wrote a post wondering whether there was still a center in American politics, a place where people of good will from the left and the right could find the kind of reasonable compromises necessary to govern when there is little consensus on what is to be done. And I quoted the haunting line from W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming:”

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold …”

I hate to tell you, but the very next Yeatsian line, which I left out last year, was:

“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

I’m not a centrist. But I believe that – perhaps especially in America with our increasingly rigid two-party system in which party lines have hardened while moderates and centrists have mostly disappeared – our nation’s governance badly needs a center right about now, lest mere anarchy be loosed upon the world.

Yet I fear the latest trends in public opinion augurs ill, which is how I felt to see current trends in polarization reflected in this latest poll result from Morning Consult.

When asked to grade the work of President Donald Trump at the end of his first year in office, 64 percent of Democrats gave him an “F.” Another 15 percent, gave him a “D.”

But 43 percent of Republicans gave him an “A” and another 29 percent gave him a “B.”

Few of us, (14 percent, and only 19 percent even of self-declared independents) gave him a middling “C.”

Since mid-April — around the 100-day mark of Trump’s presidency, when Morning Consult and Politico first asked the question, Republican voters have become 10 points more likely to give Trump an “A,” while Democrats who give him an F have risen from 48 percent then to the 64 percent now.

(If you’re wondering, there was also a 10-point jump, from 21 to 31 percent, of independents who gave him an F.)

Sure, I blame Trump, too. I’d give him an “F” too. I’m surely not arguing that he presents any kind of a “center.” When asked for a one-word description of Trump’s performance in office, I always end up with “horrified.”

But I’m also pretty close to horrified about this level of polarization and the lack of a middle in which governing can occur.

I’m for health care for all. I’m for a clean DACA renewal. I’m for a more progressive tax code, a wider safety net, and less militarism. But those things aren’t going to happen this quadrennium, and a lot of work and a lot of change will be necessary to build a durable majority for those things. In the meantime, I think we need to reinvent bipartisan compromise to keep mere anarchy from being loosed upon the world.

Comments (70)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 01/17/2018 - 09:25 am.

    Perhaps Unity and Compromise Are Overrated

    If we have embraced a more partisan political identity, so be it. If the party we support is in charge, we should like the results. If, like now at the state level, we have divided government, the worst from the opposition should be held in check. If the opposition holds all the cards, we work harder to win the next round.

  2. Submitted by Patrick Steele on 01/17/2018 - 09:49 am.

    We Keep Trying That

    A shift to the center (remember all the “reasonable” Republicans the Clinton campaign courted?) didn’t work so well last time. Why do you think it’s going to work better in the future? You suggest that we’re overly polarized, but if you’re for universal health care, progressive taxation, a robust safety net, and less militarism, you are a ways left of the our country’s leftmost major party. Perhaps we need a major party to try offering something that helps working people instead of trying to point out how little the other guys do to make your life better.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/17/2018 - 10:09 am.

    The center

    I always think of the center as a magical place where one can both have one’s cake and eat it too.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/17/2018 - 03:34 pm.

      Jim Hightower’s Definition

      The middle of the road is for yellow lines and dead armadillos.

    • Submitted by Dan Sperl on 01/17/2018 - 04:30 pm.

      Agree to disagree.

      I think of the left and right, especially at their extremes, as squabbling children trying to enjoy the entire cake for themselves. I think of the center as being willing to cut the cake into three approx. equal slices and sharing it.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/18/2018 - 09:22 am.

        False Equivalence

        It’s only one party that has moved to the extreme. The modern day GOP, at both the state and national levels, is the first party that has been willing to “kill all the hostages.” They are the ones that are perfectly willing to shut down governments if they don’t get their way.

        Obama held meetings, before video cameras, inviting GOP legislators’ input on his healthcare bill. How much did Ryan & McConnell & Trump reach out to Dems for their healthcare bill? How about the tax scam bill? Oh that’s right, McConnell was dedicated to making Obama fail and be a (all together now) “One! Term! President!!!”

        Attorney General John Ashcroft said that anyone who disagreed with him was doing the work of the terrorists. Imagine if Pelosi had held a meeting like McConnell did, dedicating Dems to making Bush fail? Oh how the right wing echo chamber would have howled about the traitors!

        It’s a lazy media construction to blame both sides.

        • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/18/2018 - 12:33 pm.

          Exactly, can you imagine…

          The reaction from the right if:

          Obama called himself a “stable genius”
          Hillary declined to answer any question from the House Benghazi questioners in an hours long interview.
          Obama took a soft line with Putin and a hard line with Britain.
          Hillary paid $130,000 and $150,000 to porn stars for their silence.
          Obama told us “You are so lucky as to have had the privilege of voting for me”
          Hillary called Obama an “$#@!&* Moron”

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/17/2018 - 11:22 am.

    I think the meaning of the “center” has shifted. The significant right-ward shift of the Republican goals and policies doesn’t really mean that the standard Democratic goals and policies have turned radical left.

    Where is the widespread Democratic support for single-payer health care ? Where is the Democratic support for a guaranteed income ? Where is the Democratic support for the containment of predatory businesses ? Where is there significant support and development of unions by Democrats ? Where is the Democratic support for reparations to Native Americans and African Americans ? On and on. Those are mildly lefty ideas with very minimal support in the Democratic party. Opposing a tax reform give-away to the wealthy is not radical. Opposing the destruction of a minimally developed health insurance subsidy plan is not radical left.

    Like so many traditional former Republicans say–the party has left them.

    As for why Trump should get lots of “C” for his performance because “that’s the middle”, the question should be asked–should there alway be a middle ? Sure Hitler was very popular with some people and very unpopular with others–should there have been more people in the middle saying, “hmmm, I really can’t tell what I think…”? Polarizing figures polarize–that’s their game and route to power—the missing middle is simply a sign of effective localized propaganda and, on the other side people who don’t buy the propaganda. It doesn’t mean one should moan on about the missing middle.

    • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/17/2018 - 10:14 pm.

      “The significant right-ward shift of the Republican goals and policies doesn’t really mean that the standard Democratic goals and policies have turned radical left.” I actually don’t see right-ward shift in Republicans but see a left-wing one in Democrats (how many of them would now support Clinton’s policies?)

      • Submitted by Robert Lilly on 01/18/2018 - 11:02 am.


        How many Republicans now support an insurance mandate? You know, the one Republicans were in favor of in the 90’s? Just because YOU don’t see it, doesn’t mean anything.

        • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/18/2018 - 10:31 pm.

          I don’t know what exactly you mean by insurance mandate but Republicans opposed Clinton’s health plan but so did many Democrats…Of course, at that time, Democrats supported Clinton’s welfare reform plan…

      • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 01/18/2018 - 11:50 am.

        I don’t know how old you are, but I remember when it was possible for Republicans to be environmentally conscious and opposed to foreign intervention (as Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield was, and the EPA was established under Nixon), for food assistance to the poor (food stamps were made a national program under Nixon), for tax reform that didn’t hurt vulnerable groups (as Oregon Senator Bob Packwood was), and for letting GLBT people serve in the military and not incorporating religious rules into party platforms (as Barry Goldwater was).

        In today’s Republican Party, ALL those positions are considered heretical.

        I grew up in Minnesota, and if you look at the history of the 1950s and 1960s, you will see that control of the state passed back and forth between the Republicans and Democrats on a regular basis. Yet the state was well-run either way, and the two parties talked to each other.

        I left in 1984 and came back in 2003 and was appalled at how the Republicans had changed. Shortly after returning, I attended a DFL event (witnessing the rapid transformation of the Oregon Republicans from enlightened moderates to a mad combination of libertarian economics and pseudo-Christian morality changed me from an independent to a supporter of the admittedly imperfect Democrats) and ended up talking to a statewide official, whom I did not recognize at the time, due to my long absence. (No, it wasn’t Governor Dayton–I would have recognized him due to his first Senate run in the 1980s.)

        I commented on the change I had seen in the Republicans since the 1980s, and this state official nodded and said, “We used to be able to talk to them. We disagreed on many issues, but we could always work something out. Now they’re out for blood.”

        On the national scene, the Republican Propaganda Machine has spent thirty-plus years painting the Democrats as wild-eyed radicals, and since, unlike most European and Asian countries, we have no real leftist parties, this characterization has become conventional wisdom. Yet, like a lot of conventional wisdom, it is merely conventional, not wise.

        One of the favorite bogeywomen of the Republicans, second only to Hillary Clinton, is Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader. She’s supposed to be this wild San Francisco radical, and yet in reality, she has done more to keep the Democrats from accomplishing the agenda of the Progressive Caucus than anyone else.

        President Obama was supposed to be a far-left radical, too, but none of the REAL leftists I know considered him a comrade. In fact, they were angry at him for promising universal health care and then promoting the Heritage Foundation insurance plan that turned into the ACA.

        Americans don’t travel. Perhaps it’s a combination of little money and less vacation time, but even their overseas travel is often to inclusive resorts that shelter them from any contact with the locals. Several of my friends have noticed that Americans tend to be conservative or liberal depending on how much and where they have traveled and under what circumstances.

        They therefore do not realize how far right the putative American “left” party is or that there is anything between being a Republican and being a Communist. Even the long-ruling “conservative” party in Japan (paradoxically called the Liberal Democrats) is in favor of universal health care, equal public education for all children, mass transit, and intercity rail.

        • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/18/2018 - 08:16 pm.

          A little added support

          “Arnie Carlson” the last reasonable Republican I can think of. Balanced budget, personal freedoms, progressive Minnesota, ousted by his own party. Looking for Center, interview Arnie.

        • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/18/2018 - 10:32 pm.

          I came to American in early 90’s so all my comparisons are based on my experience starting then. Since then, Democrats have changed positions on same sex marriage, immigration, crime, and welfare, – those are the things that come to my mind first, there may be more, – and in all cases they moved to the left. But you are correct: some Democrats are even more to the left of Pelosi and want socialism! I have not noticed much change in Republican positions…

          • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 01/19/2018 - 11:09 am.

            It’s telling, don’t you think?

            That equal rights and self-determination are considered to be left-wing.

            But then, the Right never has been on the Right Side of history.

          • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 01/19/2018 - 03:53 pm.

            By the time you arrived in the U.S., the Republicans were already halfway to their present status as a far-right party, a trend that really accelerated in the mid 1990s. I’m old enough to remember Eisenhower and Nixon, two Republican presidents who would be considered “too far left” for today’s Republican Party.

          • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/19/2018 - 04:03 pm.

            Say what?

            Sorry, changed on Same Sex marriage? Need something other than your opinion to support that notion:
            Immigration: Again something other than your opinion!
            Crime and welfare? As before something to support that opinion!
            Republican positions? You mean like the “T” supporting white supremacy? not sure I saw that blatant support under either of the Bush’s, or Reagan, would you consider that an opinion? As also noted earlier, was Arnie not a republican Governor 91-99. He couldn’t get elected dog catcher for the screaming right wing Republicans in MN today. They denied endorsement form his own party and he goes on to win 60%+ of the vote, guess he captured the middle. Seems we have a lot of lost “R’s” that keep denying they are lost. What was the saying: you don’t know what you don’t know, which isn’t so bad as, you don’t know that you don’t know , and don’t want to know what you don’t know.

        • Submitted by Tom Johnson on 01/19/2018 - 12:41 pm.

          Your Reading of the Republicans Is Exactly Correct…

          …but you misread the Dems. They are no longer an opposition party and have not been since the corporate-owned Democratic Leadership Council (the Koch Bros. were among the original “shareholders”) to over the party in the 1980s coup, using the Clintons as their point people.

          While major U.S. parties have always been primarily capitalist, racist and patriarchal, the Clintonian coup sealed the deal and created a formal corporate duopoly with two wings, but one set of bosses.

  5. Submitted by Richard Adair on 01/17/2018 - 11:23 am.

    The rest of Yeats’ poem

    Hardly more comforting:

    “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity…

    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again; but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

  6. Submitted by Howard Miller on 01/17/2018 - 11:31 am.

    we need above average, not a middle

    Trump is a polarizing figure more for his personal behavior; the nasty things he says about people; the nasty policies he has chosen to pursue based on apparent but profound ignorance of the substantive issues involved, from DACA to public health insurance subsidies to public finance. He presents a problem to the American people not because he’s a conservative – i don’t think he has strong core beliefs on governance frankly, as he ran for president to monetize campaigning for the presidency, line his pockets (speculation of course.) It his conduct – words and behavior that are uncivil, mean-spirited and divisive by intention.

    There is no point in talking a political center in the Trump era. That requires an intelligent civil discussion of the policy choices and a fair debate without egregious lies being slung by any one. And a renewed respect for facts, evidence, civility and tolerance of different points of view. That conversation is all but impossible in the Trump Reality Distortion Field known as his presidency.

    First Mr. Trump has to go. Then we sort about how to moderate the extremes which have taken hold largely by harsh conservative policies in the last year voted into law by the Republican controlled federal government.

  7. Submitted by joe smith on 01/17/2018 - 12:31 pm.

    Big Government vs smaller Government,

    that is the issue. Mr. Black wants universal healthcare, bigger safety net, a more progressive tax code all making Govt bigger. Many Americans want choice in their healthcare, welfare for those who can’t work and less taxes, making Govt smalller.
    With congressional approval in the teens, who wants to entrust the Govt with more responsibilities? Big Govt is so wasteful and inefficient, who wants more money being sent to them? There is a disconnect between Liberal Big Govt and the reality that DC is incapable of running the very programs they wish for.
    Take a look at Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, “War on Poverty”, Education Dept, total waste in procurement process of DOD and 25 different Big Government programs, please show me the success.
    Hard to find a middle when the 2 sides have totally different goals and values.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 01/17/2018 - 01:52 pm.

      Big Government Republilcans

      Joe, I’ve learned one hard truth in dealing with Conservatives: Whatever it might be that they’re railing against, when one takes a closer look they are neck deep in that very behavior. While Republicans pretend that they are against “Big Government” they have no qualms about making it bigger when it suits them. Right now they’re using Big Government to stop States who want to legalize Marijuana. Another obsession is so called Preemption laws. Laws that preempt States or counties or cities from passing their own laws. We saw it here when state Republican used preemption to stop the city of Minneapolis from passing a no plastic bag ordinance. We’re seeing it with Minimum wage laws as well. Big Government is often used by Republicans to interfere with a woman’s right to an abortion. So excuse me while I call BS on you Big Government Liberal comment.

      As for Social Security and Medicare those are two of the most popular and efficient programs in the history of the country. Social Security is credited with greatly reducing poverty in our aging population. Admin costs for SS is extremely low.

      Lastly you may be right that the two sides have different goals, one wants Business to run the country and the other thinks we are a country by and for the people. If we did a poll I wonder where the center would fall on that one.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 01/17/2018 - 07:00 pm.

        Henk, if you are claiming Social

        Security and Medicare are the stars of Big Govt, that shows how bad it is! Medicare runs as a deficit every year. Medicare is only 50% funded by premiums and payroll taxes. You could take the same amount of money you paid nto Social Security, put it in any number of money market funds and would have done much better on your investment by the time you turn 65. Giving the Govt money never works. Now if you are saying folks like free phones (Obama phones), free healthcare, free cars, free heating of their house, free food and in general free stuff (nothing is free that is our tax dollars) I agree. If you are saying Big Govt is good at running big programs, I couldn’t disagree more.
        Big difference between running programs (with other people’s money) and running programs well!! The Govt is a money wasting machine, only way to stop it is starve it. As I stated, it is between Big Govt and small Govt. Not much middle there, proven by the fact you are a fan of the way Govt spends money.

        • Submitted by Robert Lilly on 01/18/2018 - 11:23 am.


          Can conservatives hold an honest conversation about anything? Obama phones? Are you serious?
          The Lifeline program originated in 1984, during the administration of Ronald Reagan; it was expanded in 1996, during the administration of Bill Clinton; and its first cellular provider service (SafeLink Wireless) was launched by TracFone in 2008, during the administration of George W. Bush. All of these milestones were passed prior to the advent of the Obama administration.
          I’m convinced most government run programs would be far more efficient and effective if it were not for Republicans trying to sabotage everyone of them. In my eye’s the Democratic party has now become the party of fiscal responsibility and Republicans are the drunken sailors putting everything on the national credit card. You elect these small government supporters to congress and they find out how much things really cost and that we’ve already cut as much as is politically possible, instead of raising the revenues to fund these programs properly they just do more deficit spending while you cheer them on.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/17/2018 - 03:41 pm.

      That’s A Laugh

      Big government is telling two private parties what kind of contract they can agree to. So when General Motors and the UAW agree that all employees hired by the company must pay agency fees to cover the cost of contract negotiation and administration by the UAW that benefits those same employees, a limited government would allow them to negotiate that themselves. But GOP politicians have expanded the scope of government into the private agreements by allowing freeloaders to have their cake and eat it to. And to think this is the same group always crying foul about welfare cheats!

      So much for the government that governs least governing best.

    • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 01/17/2018 - 08:49 pm.

      Choice in health care

      If Americans want choice in doctors, nurses, hospitals, and so on, then they should demand the disappearance of health insurance companies.

      If we had a universal single payer system, there’d be no networks that restrict and limit choices, to name the most basic choice limiter we now have.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 01/18/2018 - 12:08 pm.


      So I guess what you’re saying is, among other similar things, what we need do is get rid of Medicare.

      Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Think of all the Freedom it would create!

      And insurance companies would love it.

      Oh wait . . . Wasn’t it the insurance industry that insisted Big Government take over the provision of health care “insurance” for anyone 65 or older?

      Why do you suppose that was? Could it have had anything to do with how much monthly premiums for those people would have needed to cost for insurance companies to be able to stay in business?

      I don’t know how old you are or if Medicare’s part of your life, but how much do you think your health care insurance premiums would be if you were, say, somewhere around 70 and it was up to you to foot the bill every month?

      Fifty bucks or so?


      Maybe a hundred?

      “Keep going,” you say?

      Or how much do you think 94 year old Grandma’s policy would run her? How many jobs do you think she’d need to cover it?

      Or why don’t we just follow your Grand Vision all the way to its logical conclusion and get rid of every Totally Wasteful Max Inefficient Big Gov health care program there is and just leave it all to your Free Market Salvation Pilots and see what happens?

      No more Medicare.

      No more Medicaid.

      No more CHIP.

      No more MinnesotaCare (or whatever it’s called these days).

      And just “let the market sort it out.”

      What do you say? Sound good to you?

      What do think insurance companies, hospitals, drug makers, med device makers and everyone else with their hands in the private sector health care pie would think about THAT?

      Think they’d be all for it?

      Or do you think they MIGHT be a little reluctant?

      You can bark and moan and blow as much smoke as you have to keep your blood pressure in-check, but tell me, WHERE DO YOU THINK ALL THAT BIG GOVERNMENT HEALTH CARE MONEY GOES?

      Who do you think all those Billion Dollar taxpayer-covered checks are written to? The Obamaphone people?

      Get a grip, Joe . . . Almost every nickel the dirty rotten stinkin’ Big Government spends trying to help people stay alive goes directly into the bank accounts of your Free Market heroes AND, if it didn’t, they’d be filing bankruptcy faster than you could write your next blame game epistle.

  8. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/17/2018 - 12:49 pm.

    Center vs. Center

    Yes, the country needs to recover its “center,” but what does that mean?

    The “center” does not, in my opinion, refer to some ideological midpoint. Even if such a place could be found, there is no inherent advantage to being in the middle. As Barry Goldwater cribbed from (a possibly fictional) Cicero, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. Sometimes, extreme solutions are called for.

    The center that we need is a recollection of common values and goals. Take the example of the Job Training Partnership Act. That law was the joint effort of Senators Kennedy and Quayle. Both Senators, representing what then passed for ideological opposites, could recognize a common goal, and sought a way to reach it. While both may have compromised on the details of the legislation, neither Senator had to compromise his personal ideology to back the bill. You can see a similar spirit in the recent interest in criminal justice reform: both liberals and conservatives see the need, if they see it for different reasons. That is how I would define the “center.” It has nothing to do with bipartisanship (another ideal that is overrated). Instead, it has to do with the center of our common ideals as Americans. We have the same overall goals. Let’s see if there is a way we can reach them together.

    This is also, since we’re being all literary today, closer to what I think Yeats meant by the center.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 01/17/2018 - 03:37 pm.

      Well stated, RB

      I’m a national account manager for a large distribution company. When I sit across the desk from a buyer, both of us have stated goals and we both understand that neither of us are going to get everything we want. We negotiate, agree on COMMON goals, and ultimately walk away knowing that we both have brought our respective companies a mutual beneficial solution, product or program.
      This has worked in and out of the business world for generations. Aside from partisan ideology, I see no reason that it can’t work now.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/19/2018 - 04:08 pm.


        Called win-win: Not allowed in politics today, especially “T”, he has only 1 vision, I must win and in order for me to win you must lose! And there is no other option. Seems the “R” folks like that game and continue to drive towards totally annihilation of any thought other than neanderthal, open mindedness is not allowed in the creed.

    • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 01/18/2018 - 09:26 am.

      Great comment

      I think at this point we need more than common goals, we need common facts. When one party thinks the sky is blue and the other thinks the sky is orange we will never find common ground. Without common facts we will never be able to move on to common goals.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/18/2018 - 10:37 pm.

        I see two problems here. First, the sky may be blue or orange, depending on the time and conditions. And second, who says what?

    • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/18/2018 - 10:35 pm.

      Both Republicans and Democrats see the need for immigration reform… that is where the agreement ends. As I said earlier, reason and facts should drive decisions, not ideology, – that is what the center is.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/19/2018 - 01:28 pm.

        Is That All There Is?

        The conclusion that both “see the need” for something should be the beginning, but in this case, “seeing the need” begs the question. “Reform” means “top make something better.” I have enough Calvinist in me to believe that there is no perfectible human endeavor, so sure, reform. What will that reform look like?

        “Reason and facts should drive decisions, not ideology.” Ideology informs how we decide what decisions we should reach. Liberals and conservatives can agree, for example, that our transportation infrastructure needs to be reformed. That is a fact. Now, how to accomplish that reform? Is there a neutral factual basis for concluding how spending should be allocated between infrastructure to support private cars, and transit infrastructure? Or are the “neutral facts” going to be seen through our ideological eyes?

        • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/19/2018 - 09:48 pm.

          As I said, ideology shall play no role in decision making. Studies have shown that people react to a proposed solution or action differently based on who they think came up with that proposal – and that is wrong and killing us. We should learn to critically evaluate everything as if we don’t know where it came from.

  9. Submitted by Sonja Dahl on 01/17/2018 - 04:10 pm.


    I see a shift in our traditional definitions of left and right, which used to represent ideological differences. What Obama contributed to this transformation, was to talk about policies in purely pragmatic terms. Instead of asking if a position was left or right, he would ask, “does it work?” He begged the Republicans for their ideas, for their solutions to problems. He even adopted an old plan from a right-wing thinktank (Heritage Foundation) for his healthcare reform bill (ACA).

    While this transformation is not complete, the Democratic party is much more populated with people who look at data, who know the facts, who listen to subject-matter experts, and embrace science. These pragmatists want to find solutions to the problems that face America such as poverty, the cost of higher education, immigration, global warming, and health care. And it doesn’t matter where the solution comes from if it is backed up by evidence.

    The Republican party is becoming, as Paul Krugman labeled it, a new party of “know-nothings.” People who not only ignore expertise, but disdain it. There are no facts that can convince them, because they distrust facts, knowledge, and even reason. They will defend Trump and other leaders, even if it means supporting positions which do harm to themselves or to their country.

    There are not a lot of people between these two positions because the only way to become a Republican ideologue is to be a consumer of their media (Limbaugh, Fox, Drudge, Breitbart, et al). Therefore, America is becoming more divided between those who consume and regurgitate ideology and those who seek knowledge and solutions.

  10. Submitted by George Moore on 01/17/2018 - 03:17 pm.

    The Center

    Dear Eric,
    I would beg to differ. What the country is lacking is not a Centrist party but a true party of the Left. The Democratic Party is now, and has been for decades, a very centrist party. It best embodied a leftist vision in the 1930’s. Over the last year many Democrats, both elected officials and rank-and-file members have been more vocal and insistent on liberal or progressive positions, but the party as a whole has not coalesced around these individuals. The current abject failure of the Congressional Democrats to address immigration issues such as DACA are simply one example of how Centrist the Party remains.

    While a very extreme right-wing ideology has completely captured the Republican Party, the Democratic party struggles to defend even moderate liberal positions. The challenges facing our species will not be solved without radical changes. Therefore, it more radicals that are called for.

    Thank you for your always thought provoking work!
    George Moore

  11. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/17/2018 - 03:47 pm.

    Who Moved?

    Is there really no middle? Or is it that one side has shifted further right? Certainly liberals and conservatives have sorted themselves more strictly into two parties, but that doens’t mean it has to lead to less compromise. I don’t think liberals are less prone to compromise than they were 20 or 30 years ago. Is there any question as to whether or not conservatives are less prone to compromise than they were even 10 years ago? Anyone recall a certain meeting Mitch McConnell attended on the day of Obama’s first inauguration? Democrats held no such meeting on Inauguration Day in 2001, 2005, or 2017 for that matter.

    Obama bent over backwards looking for GOP support for health care. He even compromised right out of the chute, pushing a conservative plan that preserved private healthcare corporations. How much support did McConnell & Ryan look for in attempting to trash Obamacare?

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/18/2018 - 09:32 am.

      The Tide

      I think of this whole situation as a boat tied to a dock.

      In 1916 the boat was near the dock and the rope was lose. (ie govt controlled <10% of GDP)

      In 1930 the boat started to drift Left and the rope allowed this flexibility. (ie govt controlled 20% of GDP)

      In 1986 the boat continued to drift Left and the rope started to tighten. (ie govt controlled 30% of GDP)

      In 2016 the boat tried to drift Left and the rope started to pull back hard to keep the boat from drifting out to sea. (ie govt controlled 38% of GDP)

      Now you can say that it is the GOP has become more Conservative however I think that is terribly inaccurate. Personally I think they gave in until they thought our country had drifted too Far Left. As I often ask Liberals, how much of the country's GDP should flow through the government?

      Usually I get the answer... As much as is needed...

    • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/18/2018 - 10:40 pm.

      “Democrats held no such meeting on Inauguration Day in 2001, 2005, or 2017 for that matter.” I remember many meetings in 2017 with just one slogan: Resist!

  12. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/17/2018 - 10:13 pm.

    “When asked to grade the work of President Donald Trump…” I don’t know how many people pay attention here but the question wasn’t about Trump but about his work. I can guess that Republicans and conservatives mostly answered the actual question separating their opinion of Trump as a person from their opinion of what he does. Liberals and Democrats can’t separate those two things nor do they care much since they hate both. And independents are unfortunately strongly influenced by the media and its 90% negative coverage of Trump. Because really, Trump hasn’t done anything that harmed America (and all his tweets are really just a distraction from what he does so I wish he stopped it).

    ” In the meantime, I think we need to reinvent bipartisan compromise to keep mere anarchy from being loosed upon the world” Sure, so maybe Schumer and Pelosi will hear it and would agree to common sense immigration measures such as stopping chain migration, lottery visas, and sanctuary cities…

  13. Submitted by John Appelen on 01/17/2018 - 11:07 pm.


    I agree with you totally though I have no idea how to get there. I have been playing the Devil’s Advocate to people on the Far Left and Far Right for almost 10 years now and it seems folks are pretty much right where they started or even further split.

    Depending on the day I am now attacked for being a socialist by those on the Far Right, or a Conservative by those on the Far Left. And I think what concerns me most that it seems the level of anger is growing. On the upside people are passionate about their beliefs. On the down side it seems they are seeing the folks with different beliefs as an “enemy”.

    And with people so strongly invested in confirmation bias, and mostly communicating with those of like minds… I have no idea how to bring this nation back together. I really am starting to miss the days when we watched the same national news and had to actually talk to a mix of people.

    Here was my attempt to try and understand what is center and what would make Americans happy. Unfortunately it did not get too far. 🙁 It is seems the Far Left and Far Right folks are pretty inflexible.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/18/2018 - 08:40 pm.


      I think I live in a fiscal conservative social liberal “the center” and I attack you because I don’t think you grasp either the economics of what you are advocating or the human rights, i.e. the compromise to a reasonable solution!

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/18/2018 - 10:20 am.


    Eric, if you believe what you say you believe… you are a centrist.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/18/2018 - 10:27 am.

    Centrism created this fiasco.

    The intellectual catastrophe if meeting ignorance and magical thinking half-way created this fiasco. In any given situation or problem there is a best option, or a best solution. In any given situation it’s always better to do the smartest and most informed thing you can do. Centrism ignores that basic fact and pretends that half measures or voluntary ignorance is not only best anyone can do, but actually the best possible outcome. That’s how we created this mess. Let’s try doing the stupid thing just in case it works. Let’s try magic, maybe it will work this time? After decades of meeting bigotry, ignorance, stupidity, sexism, magical thinking, and dishonesty half way… here we are.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/18/2018 - 11:03 am.


      Well at least you have one thing in common with Trump.

      You apparently think the USA is a disaster and in need of major changes.

      And I always find that amazing since we are the wealthiest most influential country in the world, and billions of humans wish they could live here in our “fiasco”.

      And after travelling the world, I can not think of anywhere else I would want to live and raise a family.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/18/2018 - 11:00 am.

    I’m getting tired of these appeals to restore comfort zones

    Centrism isn’t a viable political, social, or economic objective, but it is a comfort zone that creates the illusion of stability, and a lot of people are clearly yearning for the return of their comfort zone, even if it kills us.

    This nostalgia for the comfortable realm of the center is paradoxically driving a false narrative of division. Metaphors that compare social and political landscapes to the thin red lines that the British military used to rely on 200 years ago are facile. The New Deal and the relative stability it ushered in wasn’t a victory thrust out of the “center”. For that matter our Constitution was no compromise between Royalists and Parliamentarians, and we have the most stable government in the world believe it or not.

    Stability and progress are rarely if ever the product of a defeat or victory of the “center”. Typically progress and stability flow out of the discovery and implementation of the best policies, and those policies rarely flow out of the “center”. Revolutions that drive or sustain progress typically emerge for the fringes, not the centers. This decades long “liberal” impulse to block liberal agendas for sake of centrist stability has clearly blown up in our faces… calls to return to that illusion of stability are fatuous.

    Having said all that it’s important to remember that the collapse of the old comfort zone doesn’t mean that we’re a “divided” nation. The fact is if you drill down into any of the supposedly divisive issues we allegedly face today in America; you actually find clear majorities in favor of a particular policy. Be it immigration reform that provide a pathway to citizenship rather than deportation, Abortion, or support for single payer health care, we have clear majorities in support.

    This “divided” nation narrative simply reinforces a centrist illusion by pretending that the breakdown has been crated by some kind of disintegration of the status quo rather than political incompetence across both parties. The Republican inability to govern has nothing to do with the “center”, they have been nowhere near the “center” of anything for decades… they’re just incapable of governing because they have no coherent concept of government. That’s just an existential fact, its not a product of their distance from the “center”.

    Likewise, the Democrats have mired in mediocrity for decades, ignoring their responsibilities to improve American lives rather than simply win elections. That has nothing to do with their proximity to the center.

    I would remind those who yearn for the return of their comfort zones that the crises we face has been driven by the fact that hundreds of millions of Americans don’t and never did share YOUR comfort. Affluent liberals and damaged conservatives may have taken solace in stalled agendas that harmed millions of Americans for decades but that was never a sustainable status quo.

  17. Submitted by Tom Johnson on 01/18/2018 - 12:38 pm.


    This call for a movement to the mythical “center” is absurd and childish. The U.S. is a nation that was founded upon the basis of domination by patriarchy, white supremacy and colonial/capitalist hegemony. It remains such. So we are in fact a divided nation and our only salvation is a radical move to the left with a rejection of racism, sexism and capitalism and a true socialist democracy. Wake up kids. There AINT a lot of time.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/18/2018 - 01:35 pm.

      What is the Hurry

      As noted above, the tide has been trying to pull us away from Capitalism and towards becoming a Social Democracy for over 100 years. What is the hurry again?

      • Submitted by Tom Johnson on 01/19/2018 - 12:47 pm.

        The need to hurry

        Climate Change
        Toxic Wastes

        Simply put, the biosphere we call Earth is becoming unlivable for our species and many others. Part of the Water Is Life observation implies that water must be clean, as must air and soil. Don’t dawdle, no matter which way the tide is flowing.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/18/2018 - 01:48 pm.

      One More Question

      Personally I think the local, state and fed governments should control where and how ~33% of the USA’s GDP should be spent. That would leave 2/3 of the GDP for individual citizens to use as they wish.

      Currently they are controlling about 37%…

      What percent do you think the US governments should control?

      Please note that with every 1% you give to them, we lose 1% of our personal choice.

  18. Submitted by Bill Willy on 01/18/2018 - 12:48 pm.

    Pop Quiz

    Who said the following; and which categories do they fit?

    A) Democrat

    B) Republican

    C) Liberal

    D) Centrist

    E) Progressive

    D) Conservative

    E) Moderate

    F) Other

    “The Republican party is now facing a great crisis. It is to decide whether it will be, as in the days of Lincoln, the party of the plain people, the party of progress, the party of social and industrial justice; or whether it will be the party of privilege and of special interests, the heir to those who were Lincoln’s most bitter opponents, the party that represents the great interests within and with out Wall Street which desire through their control over the servants of the public to be kept immune from punishment when they do wrong and to be given privileges to which they are not entitled.”

  19. Submitted by David Moseman on 01/18/2018 - 02:57 pm.

    Center or Synthesis?

    This debate reveals a problem with Our Social Discourse. We persist in a rational debate in our Post Rational World. We talk of policies then act upon emotions. The emotion that emerges from this commentary is a combination of frustration and be trail. From the Center we hoped that the best policies of the Right and Left would emerge to lead us to a better world. We fail to understand that policies are paths to that better world. That better world is a merger of policy behaviors and feelings. If the policies you supported had worked what would your world look like today? What actions can you take to make that world your Reality?

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/19/2018 - 10:07 am.

      Irrational expectation

      “From the Center we hoped that the best policies of the Right and Left would emerge to lead us to a better world.”

      That was always irrational thinking bordering on magical thinking. Centrism assumes that no one knows how to solve any given problem or produce the best policy, it assumes all ideas are equally bad but combined they might be good. Why would an ideology that deliberately rejects the best policies and solutions lead us to a better world? Why would anyone think that building a road that only gets half way to a destination is the best possible road to be built? It’s like replacing a old exhausted battery with another old battery instead of a new one and pretending that’s the best possible solution. Compromise that doesn’t solve a problem is a fail, not the best of all possible worlds.

      Adversarial systems don’t produce the best outcomes, they just produce winners and losers. It’s simply irrational to assume that in any given scenario the best option lay between two propositions rather than selecting the best proposition. It’s like looking at an argument between two guys, one saying 2+2=4 and another saying 2+2=8 and deciding the best solution must be:”6″. Centrism assumes that basic human decency and human rights must be leftist “extremes” when placed on the same field with racism and oppression. Let’s meet the Nazis half way and decide that Jews are what? 3/4 of a real person? Sure, that’s a better world for everyone, job done, go home and forget about it. Seriously?

      You can pretend we live in a “post rational” world if you want, but when you abandon logic, reliable evidence, and reason, and basic morality, you don’t get the best possible world, you get the Dark Ages, and that’s actually quite predictable. Why would anyone expect otherwise?

      Sure compromise is often necessary, but compromise is the best you can sometimes get in lieu of the best possible solution. Centrism pretends that compromise IS the best possible solution rather than the best you can get for now. This is how you produce decades of failure that satisfy the comfortable elite and the affluent but push everyone else to the breaking point. This is how you produce soooo much frustration and desperation that tens of millions of people are willing to roll the dice on Trump.

      This delusion that we’d attained the best possible world is the very definition of neoliberal mentality. The belief that all our major work is done and little beyond a little “tweaking” here and there was foundation of the Clintonian “New Democrats”, and the “Third Way”. THAT was/is centrism and you can draw a direct line between that (in the form of the Democratic Leadership Council) and Trump’s election.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/19/2018 - 12:55 pm.

        Mixed Economy

        My version of the Nolan diagram assumes the Far Left (Democratic Socialists) would be happy giving the US Governments to 50+% of the country’s GDP. With that the government would provide education, college, healthcare, welfare, retirement care, etc. And the vast majority of citizens would be bound to those rules / opportunities / inefficiencies.

        It assumes that the Far Right (Pure Capitalists) would be happy limiting the US Governments to ~10% of the country’s GDP. The governments would provide infrastructure, defense, law and order. People would be free to keep more of their money and choose their schools, healthcare, colleges, retirement, etc.

        I am pretty sure that the optimum solution lies somewhere in the middle where we have been operating for many decades. My goals as always is 1/3 government 2/3 people.

        • Submitted by Bill Willy on 01/19/2018 - 02:59 pm.

          Maybe not something you’d call relevant, but . . .

          “Denmark is yet again the world’s happiest country, according to the fourth ‘World Happiness Report’ released on 16 March 2016.”

          “The Personal Income Tax Rate in Denmark stands at 55.80 percent. Personal Income Tax Rate in Denmark averaged 60.66 percent from 1995 until 2017, reaching an all time high of 65.90 percent in 1997 and a record low of 55.40 percent in 2010.”

          So, assuming there’s any validity to this “Happiness Index” thing or the general concept of happiness in the first place (and even though it was enshrined in the Declaration of Independence), I guess a lot might depend on what a person’s idea of the most important reasons for living are.

          Is it to quantify everything that moves in order to find maximum efficiencies in government activities and maybe, maybe not appropriate levels of nationwide expenditures in order to achieve some kind of optimum fiscal balance and things along those lines?

          Or maybe it’s what a lot of Americans seem to think of as Being Number One in the World at Everything and making sure everyone knows it and gives us all the respect we deserve and never ever thinks of messing with us or we’ll kick their butts before they can make a move because we are truly truly truly exceptional, etc.?

          Or, as the Danes seem to have agreed upon, is it something more along the lines of everyone just breaking down and pitching in “whatever it takes” to see what can be done when everyone agrees to shoot for a national objective like “happiness”?

          Hard to say, eh?

          But, as far as your formula goes, I’m not saying the Danish people would laugh, sneer or say, “Oh no no no . . . You have it all wrong.” But, as foolish, deluded and out of touch with reality as those (totally misguided?) “socialists” might be, I’m almost 200 percent sure they wouldn’t trade their GDP ratio or income tax rates for yours for much of anything and might ask, “Well . . . What do the people in your country think all that money is for?”

          Or, put one other way (and while thinking of the moderate that you claim to be), if I could (all but) guarantee that you and your family, almost all of your neighbors and the vast majority of everyone in America would have what they need and would, on the whole, find themselves happy enough to give Denmark a run for that first place trophy, is there any chance whatsoever that you would consider agreeing to paying a 55 to 65 percent income tax rate?

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/19/2018 - 09:47 pm.

          Economics and governance

          John, I’ve noticed a that you conflate economic models with political models a couple times in this comment thread. Capitalism is an economic system, democracy is a political system. Our Constitution doesn’t tell us what kind of economy to have, our economy simply emerges from ongoing commerce.

          No one tries to define economies or political systems in terms of a percentage of government participation because quite frankly that would be an incoherent model. In a liberal democracy like ours it simply makes no sense to talk about the government “having” any particular percent of the economy because all government revenue and expenditure takes place within the same economy all the other economic activity takes place in. We don’t have two different economies, or separate economies for the government and everything else.

          Tax revenue doesn’t disappear into a hole the Ozarks or something, it’s spent and recirculated within the general economy. Government employees buy houses, cars, clothing and food just like everyone else. The buildings, furniture, gasoline, cars, trucks, tanks,and missiles the government buys with tax revenue are purchased in the general economy from the same merchants everyone buys such things from. Concrete, blacktops, steel, wood, and any other building material used to build things is same material purchased from the same vendors whether we’re building roads or football stadiums. Medicare spending goes to the same health care providers that private insurers pay, food money get spent at the same grocery stores, and social security checks get spent on the same rent, food, clothing, and hearing aids that everyone buys. In fact aside from debt service something like 98% all government revenue goes right back out into the general economy. Governments don’t remove capital from the economy, they participate in the economy.

          The idea that there is some ideal ratio or percentage of government participation is simply facile because government participation isn’t determined by economic or political models it’s determined by whatever responsibilities the government is tasked to perform. In a liberal democracy like ours the government does what constituents ask it to do (although not without disagreement). The more responsibilities a government has, the greater it’s participation. Any government that performs the tasks and responsibilities that it’s citizens require is a successful government regardless of it’s level of economic participation. There simply is no law of economics or political science that dictates an level of government participation in the economy.

          • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 01/22/2018 - 09:51 am.

            Thank you!

            One of the most deceptive ideas that the right-wing media spread among the gullible is the idea that money collected in taxes is “removed from the economy.”

            Governments use tax money to buy things and pay people, just as private companies use their revenues to buy things and pay people. In the end, the supermarket doesn’t care whether the person in the grocery line is a clerical worker at Acme Enterprises or a clerical worker at XYZ Government Agency.

            • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/22/2018 - 10:32 am.


              The most frustrating thing is that this bizarre economic assumption isn’t a “right wing” assumption, it’s a neoliberal assumption that Democrats AND Republican have been promoting for decades. Remember that “study” that the New York Time did of Sanders Medicare for All plan that “forgot” to factor in the fact that private premiums would be eliminated when we switched to payroll deductions? Then they had to issue a retraction of sorts and admit that MOA would actually reduce costs.

              Those were neoliberal centrist economists, not Republican hacks. And then is was like: “Oh but this would be a great expansion of government participation…” and it was like: “Your point?”. We’d be paying the same providers, medical equipment manufacturers, pharmacies, and everyone else that is getting paid now, only minus the profit deductions, exorbitant administrative costs, and investor returns that we currently pay to private insurance. Nearly 100% all of the revenue collected would go right back out into the health care system. And the assumption is that this would be “Bad” for the economy somehow? No, it would be bad for health care executives and investors making money of of illness, fear, and death… but it would be good for the general economy and the American people.

  20. Submitted by Joe Musich on 01/18/2018 - 08:06 pm.

    Check out this appointment ….

    to a rather important office. This is breaking news carefully read the entire piece… Also checkout the posters which hit the streets in St Joseph recently. You can read here … And no filtering by the GOP but tacit support how can there be equivalency ? There is no mid distance between the sides of the political spectrum on the behaviors on people involved in these reports. To suggest otherwise is incongruous with the reality of what we are facing from those who are the moment in charge of our government.

  21. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/19/2018 - 11:15 am.

    Another way of looking at centrism:

    Another way of describing centrism is the belief in incrementalism- the assumption that a compromise between the best idea or solution and the worst idea or solution will necessarily produce the best solution or at least incremental progress. It’s a universe of perpetual stop-gap measures at best.

    On a fundamental level this is illogical if not outright magical thinking. It is illogical to assume that something less the the best solution can be the best solution. It is magical to assume that adopting the worst solution or elements of the worst solution will somehow “improve” the best solution. The assumption that compromise necessarily produces the “best” outcomes rather than diluted versions of the best outcomes assigns magical qualities to the process of the compromising.

    We havn’t just been living with a delusion of centrism (primarily among liberals), our liberals have adopted a form of RADICAL centrism that has come close threatening our basic social and political systems. It’s a celebration of mediocrity that has stalled every basic liberal agenda from the environment to women’s rights. It’s also needlessly created space for right wing extremists by pretending that such extremism is part of a normal political landscape.

    • Submitted by Tom Johnson on 01/19/2018 - 12:51 pm.

      Thank You

      Mediocrity has become a central feature of U.S. consumer-capitalist culture. It is necessary conditioning to maintain the now-suicidal status quo and is the result of wildly successful socialization through the corporate media, education systems, religious and other institutions.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 01/19/2018 - 01:15 pm.

      Best Executive Summary Award

      “The intellectual catastrophe of meeting ignorance and magical thinking half-way created this fiasco.”

      It may just be me, but that’s one of the best assessments of the situation I’ve come across anywhere and, in a way, is all anyone needs to know about the “centrism” points you’re making.

      Right after reading that in your “Centrism created this fiasco” comment above (and laughing) I thought of the story in a Band song about the guy who met a guy who was trying to deal with people no one could see and having to try to do it in a house of mirrors.

      Too big a topic and too long a story for now, but, from my perspective, two of the most baffling things about this “argument” are:

      — What appears to be a fair number of people’s reluctance to accept the idea that it’s impossible to negotiate with whatever today’s Republicans are, stand for and are hell bent on doing, regardless of what anyone who isn’t one of today’s Republican comes up with in terms of compromise.

      — People’s apparent reluctance (or current inability?) to see the (long-proven) political and practical wisdom of “adopting and embracing” the Progressive approach to all things American (as you often point to and George Moore pointed to in this set of comments).

      Anyway . . . Just wanted to highlight your “beyond astute” and “scalpel concise” summary (before it disappears) of what may actually be the “root cause” of the Democratic side of the current political juggernaut . . . It’s at least right up there with “The incoherence that ensues when people try to govern by ideology.”

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/19/2018 - 03:50 pm.


        What I think you are looking for is: Its impossible to have a rationale conversation with irrational people!

  22. Submitted by Howard Miller on 01/24/2018 - 01:35 pm.

    arguing labels isn’t a way to move forward

    left, center, right …. socialist, fascist ….. all words being cast as tho’ no one can change their mind or thinking as new evidence comes forward. Insisting on use of labels is a way to freeze forward movement.

    Instead, let’s talk about why health care costs so much in the USA, making it unaffordable relative to other nations with good health care and lower costs (See France, for example.)

    Let’s talk about the right of every citizen to vote, without undue obstruction or hurdles?

    Let’s talk about the need for wages to cover the basics in life, where 1 of 5 Americans who work do not earn enough for those basics.

    Let’s talk about re-investing in America, rather than allowing tax and trade policies that encourage capitalists to move their investments and wealth off shore.

    Let’s talk about strong but not insanely expensive national defense … secure borders that don’t wall out our friends and allies ……and sane immigration policies that do not demonize based on color or religion …..

    … and skip all of the labels. Maybe we’ll find we agree more than how we get pidgeon-holed by those inflexible labels.

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