An Emerging New Center
The American people want change in our national government. That much seems clear, at least, from this year’s election. Most Americans, whatever their political leanings, are sick and tired of the status quo in Washington. They want their government to be responsive to their concerns and to come up with solutions to their most urgent problems.
Of course, if you listen to the loudest voices from the outer wings of both parties, and the squabbling partisans and pundits on cable news, the solutions are easy to find. They all embrace what we call the “100 percent plan,” where partisans on the right and left promise good times forever if we only agree with 100 percent of their ideas 100 percent of the time. They see compromise as a sin, pragmatism as a character flaw, and common ground as a foreign country. And, of course, what the “100 percent plan” produces is gridlock, not progress.
That’s not the kind of change most Americans expect. Polarization and gridlock are the status quo. They are the conditions we most want changed.
That’s why most Americans reject the “100 percent plan” plan of the extremes. Most Americans want President-elect Trump and the new Congress to compromise to get important things done for the country. And more Americans are starting to identify as moderate and independent rather than liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican.
This is the new center of American politics that in Washington seems drowned out by the left and right but is larger than either of them.
The surprising truth is, most of us aren’t that far apart in our political ideology. That might seem incongruous with the increasingly polarized nature of our politics, where partisans identify, associate and communicate almost exclusively with like-minded partisans. But a survey of several thousand voters conducted over the course of this year’s election by the Rand Corporation found that on a wide array of domestic and foreign policy questions, “Americans are . . . more ideologically similar than different.”
We’re a practical, problem-solving people. History and common sense tell us the only place where lasting change can actually happen in our democracy is where it has happened in the past, in compromises forged at or near the center of American politics, where people of strong principles and good faith found their way to common ground to move the country forward.
Attempts to govern away from the center without compromise, either by executive order or party-line votes on legislation, can force action but not lasting change because those policies are abandoned as soon as Congress or the White House changes hands.
Underneath the squabbling on the surface, we believe real change is coming. Principled liberals and conservatives and moderates want to cooperate on issues that are and should be national priorities. We’re forming a new center in American politics. And No Labels, the organization we proudly co-chair, is in the vanguard of that movement.
We’re Democrats, Republicans and Independents working to encourage problem-solving, not finger-pointing.
We’ve proposed policy ideas that should be areas of common ground in a national strategic agenda to create 25 million new jobs, save Social Security and Medicare, balance the federal budget and make America energy secure.
We want our government to embrace our core political values – opportunity, security, accountability and ingenuity – values we believe are upheld by Americans of all political stripes and can serve as the shared goals that lead to good faith compromises.
We’ve helped form a bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in Congress, and we’re working with members of the incoming administration’s transition team to put problem-solving before partisanship and find creative, compromise solutions to America’s toughest challenges.
Cynics accuse No Labels’ new center movement of naiveté. But we know there are people in public life who believe as we do that Americans deserve a government as aspirational and practical as they are. They’re starting to make their voices heard, and we intend to encourage and support them.
We don’t know the specific policies a new center will produce. But the alternative to a problem-solving government, after the divisive election we have just gone through, is a degree of public discontent that could undermine democratic self-government itself. When too many problems are left unattended, faith in our democratic institutions can erode to the point it can’t be recovered for a generation or more.
The new center must be about more than what we believe. It must be about how we behave and what we can get done together. If we behave as one people with differences of opinion who share a common history and a future and are willing to compromise, we can, well, make America great again. In fact, that’s how America became great in the first place.