As Washington awaits the full impact of the Abramoff scandals, public approval of Congress stands at 27% – the lowest number since the Republican Revolution of 1994, according to the Gallup Poll. We’ve got an angry electorate on our hands, pumped up by years of hyper-partisanship.
The mutual hate society of the far-left and right has been good for the proliferation of partisan media in the intervening years – opposition to President Bush has been a bonanza for once-floundering liberal magazines such as The Nation, which has seen subscriptions more than double since 2000. At the same time, conservative commentary has flourished with the near-mainstreaming of magazines such as National Review and the Weekly Standard. And because politics so often follows the laws of physics – every action creates an equal and opposite reaction – scores of left- and right-wing blogs have similarly proliferated on the Internet, sometimes parroting talking points, but increasingly pushing forward news cycles.
Amid the media attention that has followed liberal and conservative blogs, the dramatic increase in the number of self-identified centrist blogs has been comparatively ignored. These are decidedly more difficult to pigeonhole – that’s largely the point – but their rise indicates much the same thing as the 300% increase in the number of independent registered voters across the nation since 1994: There is an increased alienation from partisan politics as usual that the established parties have tried to ignore.
By the 2004 election, the Internet was a decade old, but there were only a handful of centrist sites. Today, the political blog aggregator punditdrome.com lists 35 centrist blogs as opposed to 40 conservatives and 42 liberals. That’s just one measure; others list far more centrist sites.
“Centrist and independent blogs have grown enormously over the past two years,” says Joe Gandelman, author of themoderatevoice.com. “What’s most notable is that an increasing number of people want to be identified as centrists, independents or moderates. That’s the big shift. A lot of people don’t want to be identified as partisans anymore.”
The depth and breadth of the centrist blogs shows how quickly the ground is shifting in favor of this grassroots movement.
The widely respected Booker Rising presents itself as a news site for black moderates and black conservatives carrying forward the spirit of Booker T. Washington. It describes its platform as fiscally conservative, socially moderate, while supporting the war on terror – a good summation of the common ground found on most centrist sites.
Centerfield, the blog associated with the Centrist Coalition – based in Columbus, Ohio – takes a substantive policy approach to the bipartisan vital center, recently championing redistricting reform movements underway in 15 states while also calling for increased fiscal responsibility in Congress.
The Bull Moose blog, written by former McCain staffer and now Democratic Leadership Council member Marshall Wittmann, identifies with the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt’s later years as head of the Progressive Party.
While we’re mixing ideological and animal metaphors, two other prominent centrist blogs can be found at Charging Rino – the work of centrist Republican and Union College student Jeremy Dibbell – and Donklephant, which bills itself as “Big Teeth. Huge Ass. Surprisingly Reasonable,” and is defiantly independent.
Random Fate is the blog of scientist Jack Grant, who recently posted an item attacking those who “conform to the confirmation bias” against Judge Alito.
Other centrist blogs and aggregators include ModerateVoters.org; RadicalMiddle.com, maintained by the author Mark Satin, and The Mighty Middle by Michael Reynolds, whose work Joe Gandelman describes as “proof that people in the center can be both passionate and informed.”
These are just a few of the prominent centrist offerings on the Internet. It’s a lively place to be on the political spectrum because centrists catch hell from both sides. It’s an occupational hazard: Liberals think centrists are conservative, while conservatives think they’re liberal. As Alan Carl, a founder of the Yellow Line blog, who now opines at Maverick Views, explains, “A lot of blog readers are ideological purists, and a centrist blogger can catch a lot of grief for not toeing a particular party line.”
It’s also important to appreciate that centrists do not at this time have any organizational think tanks or party apparatus to support them. This is a self-propelled grassroots movement, responding to what Mr. Carl calls “a real thirst out there for voices that exist outside the left-right echo chambers.”
All this is indicative of a larger trend toward de-alignment – as opposed to re-alignment – that Democrats are confronting today. Despite the popular backlash against the excesses of congressional Republicans, Democrats have been unable so far to find increased public support. Instead, voters are increasingly opting out of the partisan policy straitjacket and deciding to run, register, or vote as an independent.
For example, in Mr. Bush’s home state of Texas, there are not one but two candidates running for governor as an independent: Maverick country music star Kinky Friedman and State Comptroller Carol Strayhorn – not incidentally the mother of the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan. On the other end of the geographic and political spectrum, in Massachusetts, businessman and Big Dig whistleblower Christy Mihos is considering a run for governor as an independent – not as far-fetched as it may sound in a state where 48% of voters are independents, despite its liberal reputation.
As politics awakes from industrial age rules to information age realities, old political labels are outliving their usefulness. The rise of centrist blogs under the Beltway radar screen is another indication of how quickly the landscape is shifting on the road to 2008, and why Washington might be the worst place to assess the instincts of the American electorate.