My comrades on the bleeding heart left have been having conniption fits about the results of a comprehensive, bipartisan poll conducted for Esquire magazine and NBC News that defines what it calls The New American Center. “Bleeding heart left” is not my characterization, by the way, it is one of the 8 categories the pollsters created, and it’s the one I unsurprisingly fell into when I took the survey. Some of my fellow travelers--playing into the stereotype that lefties are cursed with a Soviet style sense of humor--are offended by the names the pollsters chose to give the various categories. Whateverman (another of the category names)…sticks and stones and all that.
There are more serious objections to the poll from the left that are far more troubling if you happen to be of the left as I am, and really want to see the progressive agenda advanced in the future. The most troubling of all is the left’s scorn for the majority center, and here I’m referring to the left 10% the pollsters describe this way: “Highly educated, highly white. They live predominantly in the Northeast and West, and only 9 percent say that religion is important to them.”
You only have to read through the comment threads on the various web sites that have discussed the poll to witness the smug elitism that has long been the Achilles heel of the American progressive movement. The normally estimable Charles Pierce epitomizes the general attitude nicely…or not so nicely…when he writes, “I hate goddamn centrists.” That strikes me to be just a bit too much like writing, “I hate gravity.” And an analogy with natural forces is not far off the mark. Lefties in denial about the significance or moreover the existence of the center are not any different than climate deniers. Here’s Charles Pierce channeling Rep. Paul Broun (R) GA:
There are three kinds of people who claim to be centrists in this country today. There are embarrassed Republicans. There are lazy people. And there are liars. There is no fourth alternative. We have seen vividly the intellectual exhaustion of self-proclaimed centrists in the laughable attempts to blame both sides for the reign of the morons. We have seen vividly the intellectual dishonesty of self-proclaimed centrists demonstrated by the No Labels and Fix The Debt scams, both of which involve little more than selling out the social safety-net. We [have] even seen the intellectual vacuity of self-proclaimed centrists in the results of this poll, in which we see some vague mumbling about the deficit that will eat us in our beds, but a strong desire to raise taxes on the very wealthiest among us, which I guarantee you none of the people who proclaim their centrism the loudest believes is a centrist position.The last there--“none of the people who proclaim their centrism the loudest”--is the real rub in the leftist critique of the center. If you know any real, living, work-a-day centrists--rather than those who play centrists in the media--you know that they don’t really proclaim their politics loudly. The lefty critique of the center depends upon viewing it as a minstrel show starring such vamps as Evan Bayh, Kathleen Parker, and Harold Ford Jr., all of whom are primarily out to seduce TV bookers and corporate sponsors through exploitation of the center. The thing is, all those faux centrists actually love politics—live it and breathe it—and if there is one fundamental fact you should master before you go about labeling centrists layabouts and liars is that they really hate politics.
They don’t love to hate it like lefties do who cannot get enough of political minutia and cable news partisan wrestling no matter how infuriating they find it. Real centrists hate it to the point that they pay as little attention to it as possible. One might argue about what’s the healthier mindset—to indulge in something you hate or ignore something you hate. But the lefty position seems to be “These goddamned centrists are not spending their days getting pissed off watching Hardball and reading Politico, and they’re leaving it all for us to uphold the responsibilities of democracy. Takers! Takers!”
Esquire writes that “the center is not inconsequential.” Centrist deniers dismiss that observation at grave risk. We bleeding hearts aren’t advancing any progressive agenda, let alone winning any elections, without considerable help from the center. And the good news from the poll is that it shows solid support for a number of liberal causes. Mobilize the center rather than mock it, and the poll shows we can beat the NRA on background checks. Mobilize the center rather than mock it, and the poll shows we can get the extremely rich to make a bigger tax contribution. Mobilize the center rather than mock it, and the poll shows we can put an end to government intrusion into personal choices, like birth control and marriage.
Mobilizing, unfortunately, is the hard part for the white left which expects its political allies to come to their political wisdom naturally…or through court order. Monitoring the response to Republican attempts at voter suppression during the last election was highly instructive. The bleeding heart left pretty much became the bleating heart left, limiting its response to the usual sniping against the far right from blogs and TV panels. Meanwhile every single representative I saw from what the poll identifies as The Gospel Left (“Mostly African-American, female, urban, and older…very religious”) said that they were making a two-pronged counter-attack against the suppression efforts—they were taking things to the courts and they were taking things door-to-door. They knew they had to do this because mobilization was part of their heritage, and they knew enough not to leave their fate to the courts. And despite all the cries about the sky falling from their white “allies” on the sidelines, they overcame the threat and delivered their voters.
The poll oddly enough suggests there is widespread support in the center for voter ID laws. Well, maybe not so oddly…surely not odd to the lefties who see this finding as another excuse to pull out their favorite chew toy: America as a bastion of racism. The fact that the same center elected Barack Obama president twice and holds him in highest regard among all the nation’s public figures in the poll makes no nevermind. Just as the left cannot tell real centrists from the stand-ins who play centrists on TV, it cannot tell the difference between episodic racism and endemic racism. As for those ostensibly troubling poll results, I find them less troubling when viewed through centrist eyes rather than partisan eyes. When asked about voter ID laws, my guess is that actual centrists think, “Why the hell not? You have to show an ID for practically everything else.” I don’t think actual centrists think, “Oh, good, another way to screw minorities.” I feel pretty confident about this interpretation because one of the fundamental findings of the poll is that centrists are generally fair-minded. If you want to argue that rightwing activists have been able to exploit that fair-mindedness to promote their invidious suppression efforts that’s one thing—but it’s an entirely different thing than accusing a broad swath of the American populace of being racist against substantial evidence to the contrary.
And racist is not the half of it. The commentariat left views the center as dishonest, lazy, selfish, ignorant and just plain silly. Much like Mitt Romney’s disdain for the 47%, this intellectual 10% is highly indignant that it has to share its society with wastrels. And as with Mitt Romney, if the left persists in this contempt, it will ultimately pay a huge price at the polls.
Writing in 1987 about a similar poll of the American center, E.J. Dionne observed:
Americans are simultaneously skeptical of business and skeptical of government; they worry about the power of corporations, and also worry about what would happen if they failed. The trouble with American politics lies in its failure to allow these complicated feelings to express themselves. As a result, substantial numbers of Americans see the political conversation as too polarized, too remote from their concerns, too caught up in the false "consistencies" that are seen only by the political, cultural, and economic elites. As Charles Paul Freund wrote a few years ago in The New Republic: "'Nothing in moderation' has been our unofficial motto for a long time, with libertine and puritan subcultures leapfrogging each other to set the tone for an unstable mainstream." The current revolt against American politics is the mainstream's rebellion against this false polarization.Dionne titled his book, Why Americans Hate Politics. As both the old and the new polls indicate, the center hates politics with damn good reason. Like the new hardening right, lefties will damn themselves and their causes to oblivion if they don’t accept and grasp that essential truth. The center is just not that into the boring and maddening political process to the degree that we are. But because the center is open to persuasion on a number of liberal-friendly fronts, the left has the option of getting off its high horse and getting down to the business of making its case—clearly, consistently, and most of all respectfully to the people whose support it wants and needs.
You’re either with us or against us is how the other side does business, and that business is going under.
(Next week, The Nobby Works goes digging for the ponies buried in the poll results.)