In Charlottesville, Va., a white nationalist terrorist ran down a young woman protesting the empowerment of a bloc of racists, Nazis and neo-Confederates; he injured several more. Racists beat down a young black man with pipes, bloodying him and sending him to the hospital. Dozens of militia cosplayers patrolled the streets with semi-automatic weapons and full military regalia, allegedly intimidating the police of Charlottesville so mightily that they failed to intervene as best they could.
Simultaneously, in Philadelphia, hundreds of people amassed at the Union League for the Centrist Project meeting, a mini-convention of would-be liberals and soft-minded, purple Republicans who think that the most appropriate response to the growing vein of fascism, theocracy and free market cultism is to move toward some of the fiscal and government policies endorsed by the guy that those ralliers voted for.
The Centrist Project meet-up featured a rainbow of political philosophies, including advisers from the George W. Bush and John McCain presidential campaigns. The group pitches itself as the best of both worlds, a chance for the right and left to convene in the middle. It may be a boring pitch, but on paper it makes sense: ratchet down political tension with inter-party dialogue.
Instead, it was a convention for cowards on a weekend for racists.
When you get to the Centrist Project mission page you see that it’s little more than a rebranded Republican Party, perturbed enough by Trump to switch party affiliations, but not bugged enough by the policies that brought him to power to change their views at all.
It’s all right there, virtually every single golly-gosh Huckabee GOP down-home-ism:
- They believe in “spending cuts and reforms to our major entitlement programs.”
- They think “benefits should go to those who really need them.”
- They specify the need to invest in K-12 education, but pointedly fail to mention student loan forgiveness or free college.
There’s also this hilariously detached, preachy, and foreboding nugget about “social tolerance:”
“When private behavior does not affect the rest of us, we ought to let individuals decide what to do. In return, we expect individuals to act reasonably and responsibly.”
They may as well just write, “You can be gay, but don’t be crazy about it.” Or something like, “Protest police brutality, sure, but try to pack it in by 9 so we can get some sleep.”
This is from the Centrist Project’s ‘Principles’ page. You could literally paste that into the GOP platform and no one would notice.
To look at the problems this country faces — to look at the problems Philadelphia faces — and to say that the only workable response is to capitulate to the tenets of the right is asinine. It’s willfully ignorant, insulting and politically unviable.
Americans are desperate for any kind of leg up. Single-payer health care. Affordable and free college. A $15 minimum wage. These resonate with the people. But to be a centrist is to look at those ideas and say either “no, too expensive,” or “no, things are fine the way they are.”
The centrists don’t have what it takes to win office — especially without making so much as a nod to the above-mentioned policies. There was the sweet-hearted side of the GOP, the conservative Centrists, the Jeb Bush backers, who were annihilated before the 2016 race even got good. They were the Republican middle ground, and they got their butts handed to them. There was Hillary Clinton, who couldn’t shake her extraordinarily boring centrist leanings and fabulously lost the election — even though she got three million more votes.
All three politicians featured on the Centrist Project’s page of former candidates who ran with the endorsement of the group are ex-Republicans. And they are all linked in a very special way: every single one of them had the yard stomped on them in the congressional elections that they participated in as independent centrists. There’s Greg Orman, a Kansas businessman who spent most of his life as a Republican before briefly becoming a Democrat, and then an independent, who ran for Senate in 2014. There’s Larry Pressler, the longtime GOP senator from South Dakota, who ran as an independent for his old job in 2014. And there’s Margaret Stock, a lifelong Republican who became an independent for her 2016 Alaska Senate bid. Each one of them had wishy-washy center-right platforms and distanced themselves from the GOP. Each lost.
I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for right-leaning Democrats. Different regions in this country necessitate candidates of all predilections and campaign strategies. But if you’re on the fence about what you want your future political involvement to look like, don’t throw yourself on the pyre of centrism. As it stands, the centrism pitched by the Centrist Project is little more than off-brand middle-ground conservatism.
If you’re going to stand for something, stand for something that can’t even be remotely related to the politics that brought us to this point, with a bumbling incompetent in the White House and a cadre of separatists gladly flaunting their firepower. Support candidates who inspire you, and who demand drastic social change. Back politicians with pie-in-the-sky ideals and utopian pitches. Actualize a better future.
Don’t wuss out and meekly grope for the disappearing middle right.
Quinn O’Callaghan is a journalist and staff writer for the Philadelphia Citizen. His books are represented by Dystel, Goderich & Bourret.