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The Fallacy of Governing from the Center
A moderate road to success?...
[Thomas G. Del Beccaro] 12/14//05

"Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous;
you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides."
Margaret Thatcher

Amidst the fallout from the special election, there is a renewed discussion about governing from the Center. It is a mantra championed by many a consultant and some “moderates” – in both the Democrat and Republican Parties - that claim you have to be a centrist/moderate to win/succeed in California. Simply stated, that simply isn’t true.

It is not true because in order to succeed, politicians must be well defined to attract voters because the “very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet.” Put another way, voters generally do not elect leaders if they are uncertain as to how they will lead or how they will vote.

Thomas G. Del Beccaro

Thomas G. Del Beccaro is publisher of the website Political Vanguard. [go to Del Beccaro index]

The Center, by contrast, has no easily definable governing principle. Nor is there is a specific profile of a Centrist Voter. The Center has no organizing theme, no conventions, no convention goers, no platforms and no army of volunteers.

It is occupied by independents and “declined to state” voters. By self-identification, they are voters who are not enamored with Party politics and often not enamored by politics at all. They tend to vote issue by issue. As they do so, they vote conservatively on some issues, in a liberal fashion other times and otherwise somewhere in between. They can be socially conservative but not care for the concept of limited government; they can be fiscally conservative but socially liberal and many shades in between.

Indeed, they are hard to define. No less hard to define than a Centrist politician.

To move to the Center, therefore, is to be become less defined – to create uncertainty as to how you will vote and how you will lead. All of the above, in large part, is why very few Independents have been elected and even fewer have succeeded at high levels of leadersip. Witness the fall of Jesse Ventura in Minnesota at the hands of both Parties.Really successful leaders, either Republican or Democrat, in California and elsewhere, contrary to conventional wisdom, do not run to the Center to succeed – neither do their Parties - if they are smart.

Instead of becoming Centrist themselves, they run on issues – issues that unite their party, issues that attract independents and which divide the other Party.

For instance, even though the Republicans were the minority Party in Congress at the time of his election, President Reagan became hugely successful by making the issue of cutting taxes a central theme of his Presidency. At the time he did so, it was not a so-called Republican issue. Remember that George Bush senior thought it “voodoo economics.”

Reagan, however, was able to unite his party around that cross-over issue and he was able to attract many independents and even Democrats - Reagan Democrats. He did the same with the issue of pride in America and its defense. The Democrats, on the other hand, were divided on those issues and still are.

Clinton used that strategy as well to some degree. Clinton ran on tax cuts and welfare reform (a stretch for most Dems) in addition to the many standard, quite liberal Democrat issues. His triangulation got him through two tumultuous terms along with help of Ross Perot.

The same works in California. In the 1980s, Contra Costa County was a Democrat stronghold. A Republican best known for being the “Angry Taxpayer” wanted to get elected to the Assembly. Against the odds, he canvassed the County to determine what issues mattered to the largely Democrat voters. He campaigned on those conservative issues which he and they had in common – along with his angry taxpayer theme. He won and eventually became Congressmen Bill Baker after 12 years in the Assembly.

Assemblywoman Lynne Leach would soon follow in the same Assembly District and received over 60% of the vote twice – an even higher vote percentage than Baker. Why? Because Leach, a staunch pro-lifer, emphasized education reform – another non-liberal crossover issue – and no one, and I mean no one can accuse Lynne Leach of being a centrist/moderate.

Thus, the key is not to become Centrist, whatever that is, but to pick cross-over issues within your philosophy and combine them with your base issues thereby creating working majorities which, if fostered long enough, produce realignments.

There are any number of issues that the Republican Party in California can champion using the cross-over model. They include taxes, immigration reform, voter ID reform, and more.

Rather than pushing too many at once (and thereby uniting all of the Democrats at once as happened in the ill-fated Special Election), the Republican Party should stay true to its basic principles and pick one cross-over issue at a time and build political momentum and with that find success- and that’s no fallacy. CRO

copyright 2005 Thomas G. Del Beccaro




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