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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Posted: July 27, 2009 01:43 PM

Nothing Centrist About Them


At this moment -- when 72 percent of the nation supports a public plan option and 14,000 people lose their healthcare every day -- the House Blue Dogs and conservative Democratic Senators are doing just about everything they can to cripple real health care reform.

So why does the media keep ceding them the label of "centrist" or "moderate" as if they are the guardians of mainstream values? In a recent profile on reform slayer Max Baucus -- Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and creator of his majority Republican "Coalition of the Willing" -- Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen refers to Baucus as "a longtime centrist in the Democratic caucus." Even Harold Meyerson -- who along with E.J. Dionne and Ruth Marcus keeps the Washington Post op-ed page from being neocon central and is one of the best in the business at understanding the ideologies at play in Washington -- in a recent op-ed repeatedly decries the "centrist Democrats" such as the Blue Dogs who fight against taxing the richest 1 percent of Americans and promote a "can't-do" view of government.

All Things Considered host Guy Raz recently introduced a story on "forty centrist House Democrats from the so-called Blue Dog Coalition [who] are threatening to block the proposal in its current form...." He also spoke of "Congressman Mike Ross [who] heads up the Health Care Taskforce for the centrist Blue Dog Democrats." Want to see how "centrist" Mike Ross is? Check this out.

Even a good regional paper like Louisville's Courier-Journal -- in rightly blasting the Blue Dogs as "deplorable" for being "unable to muster the spine to pay for health care reform with even so innocuous a measure as higher taxes on the richest 1 percent of Americans" -- calls them "centrist".

The danger is that promoting the view that these conservative Democrats are somehow at the center of our politics plays into the hands of those who would like to marginalize progressives as far outside of the mainstream. (And I have no doubt K Street is advising Republicans to constantly refer to their Democratic allies as "moderate" and "centrist".) It also misrepresents what most Americans want from the government in these times.

As Drew Westen, professor of psychology at Emory University, founder of Westen Strategies, and author of the invaluable The Political Brain, told me: "The average American, according to all available data, has largely moved slightly left of where it was in the Reagan years, and with changing demographics, it will be far left of Reagan and Bush in twenty years. So to call Democrats who are substantially right of the center of the electorate (let alone of their party), like Heath Shuler, 'moderates,' is both to misrepresent the center of political gravity in the general electorate and in the Democratic Party."

How we tell the story of this battle for health care reform matters and will impact whether the battle is won or lost. So-called "centrists" are far from the center of this debate. They are, in fact, out of touch and out of the mainstream -- like the rest of their conservative brethren.