I have often argued that the terms "centrism" or "moderate" as used inside the Washington Beltway are misnomers. These terms are used to describe politicians who, while mainstream on social issues like abortion, are far to the right of America on core economic issues. The media and the moneyed interests, of course, loves to tell us that this version of "centrism" is an effective way to win elections. They also like to make anyone who doesn't subscribe to this faux version of centrism is some sort of leftist extremist. Both claims are deliberate lies.
Whenever anyone goes after groups like the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) for pushing corporate conservative policies far outside of the mainstream of American public opinion, the response is "you are wrongly urging Democrats to move farther to the LEFT." That is exactly what the economic powers that be want you to think. They want Americans to see the world as "left" vs. "right" instead of what really drives American politics: Big Money vs. The Rest of Us.
The fact is, economic populism is neither left nor right - it is, in fact, what centrism REALLY is in America, if centrism means being in the mainstream of American public opinion. That populist center - not some co-option of corporate conservatism - is what allows politicians who employ it to bridge the manufactured partisan divide and win elections. In fact, doing the opposite and trying to out-Republican Republicans not only undermines the Democratic Party, but has proven to be a surefire way to lose elections.
If you don't believe me, read this article from the American Prospect that goes over very real examples of this. Or, better yet, read the new cover story in the Nation magazine about Vermont"s Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders, who is running for the U.S. Senate in 2006. As the story notes, Sanders has used a willingness to stand up for ordinary Americans' economic rights to win both liberals and culturally conservative, rural white working class voters - the very voters the Democratic Party has lost in its increasing embrace of DLC-style corporate conservatism. The article is a fascinating read that shows exactly why Sanders' success in 2006 is so important, and how Democrats must change course in order to start winning elections again - especially when you consider polls that show Americans are waiting for Democrats to finally go after the Republicans for the GOP's corporate cronyism.
How does Sanders do it? By focusing on kitchen table pocketbook issues - and being willing to honestly assess how Washington, D.C. has become a city dominated by a legalized bribery that gets our government to help powerful interests economically squeeze the middle class. For his candor, he is rewarded with support from all across the political spectrum. As one Vermonter was quoted as saying, "I used to be a diehard Republican. Now, I'm a diehard for Bernie." Exactly - and if more Democrats would follow Sanders' model, they would be hearing that about themselves in their own states.
Oh sure, critics will scream that Sanders is a - gasp! - socialist. But notice, they have trouble actually criticizing any economic policy that Sanders advocates because they know those populist policies are the moderate/mainstream/centrist positions in America's heartland (even if the elitists in Washington, D.C. want you to think their brand of corporate conservatism is "centrist").
Sanders is sure to face serious opposition from the GOP in his race. Already a multimillionaire Bentley-driving corporate executive has threatened to run and spend at least $5 million of his own money to buy the seat for the GOP. And because Sanders refuses to take corporate PAC money, he is going to need all of our small donations to help him keep this seat out of the hands of George W. Bush and the Republican Party. With solid funding, Sanders can capitalize on what he has spent so long building up: credibility with voters that he earned by speaking truth to economic power. If more Democrats followed that model, Democrats might be in the majority right now.