Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Here's why Obama and the Democrats need to govern from the center

If they want to govern successfully, President Obama and the Democratic majorities in Congress must govern from the center and not be constantly distracted by the objections and demands of their party's left wing.

This is true for the simplest of reasons: not enough Americans are liberals to form a strong enough base of support for a sharp turn to the left.

The results of Gallup's latest survey of how Americans identify themselves ideologically, shows this breakdown:

Conservative 40%

Moderate 36%

Liberal 20%

In other words, three quarters of all Americans are not liberals. Couple this with Gallup's map of ideological identification by state (which I described in an earlier post here), and the reason for the powerful pull in American politics towards the center is clear.

This doesn't mean that the current Democratic agenda is unpopular. Far from it. Gallup's respondents may think the words liberal, moderate and conservative mean many different things, after all. A good many of the self-described moderates undoubtedly lean Democratic and are inclined to follow Democratic leaders. What's more, on some issues -- boosting the economy, regulating Wall Street, reforming health care, for example -- ordinary voters may be a lot more open to a range of solutions than their self-identifations imply.

Still, the gravitational pull of the center cannot be escaped. Pushing too far to the left -- or the right -- will inevitably result in the voters' slapping you down. I don't think there is the slightest doubt that if the Obama Administration consistently pursues the course demanded by the House Progressive Caucus, MoveOn.org, the liberal commentariat and the left-wing blogosphere, the 2010 elections will produce a huge backlash against Democrats. There is no clever political strategy that can forestall such a development. It will happen because of the nature of the electorate.

Fortunately, so far, centrist Democrats -- in particular, 15 or so moderate Democratic Senators -- have held back a foolishly leftward lurch. But the Democratic Party has been known before to shoot itself in the foot. Much depends on Obama's good sense and smart leadership. We'll see.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

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