The Center Can Hold

Why Democrats Should Not Fear Compromise

At first glance, as the 2008 campaign swings into high gear, prospects for the Democratic Party couldn’t seem brighter. The Bush presidency is crashing, and grassroots Democrats are bristling to take on the president in the next round of debates about Iraq and domestic spending. The word “liberalism”—the once-dreaded “L-word”—has even made a comeback, and, if we can trust a recent poll, the political philosophy behind the word has found increasing support among young voters. It feels like the despair of 2004 has passed.

Flush with the sense of having been right all along, activists among the antiwar Left and the “netroots” are ready to barrel ahead and press Democrats to take on the president. And why not? Few Americans support the Iraq war today. But there’s a hitch. The pacifist strains on the Left haven’t become popular. Rather, the war has lost most Americans because it has lost so much—so much money and so many lives. It was the swing voter who mattered in 2006, more than the MoveOn base or its ideas.

So instead of the left-wing Rove-ism recommended by some netroots activists, I’d suggest revisiting the idea of centrism. I know it’s a tough sell. It’s hard to disassociate the term from Joe Lieberman or the Blue Dog Democrats. And most on the left wing of the Democratic Party cringe at the most successful embodiment of centrism-namely, the Clinton presidency. In his recent book about...

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About the Author

Kevin Mattson is the author (most recently) of When America Was Great: The Fighting Faith of Postwar Liberalism (Routledge).