George Graham

Chasing the Mirage of the Political Center in America

As I watch President Obama desperately seeking the political center, I am filled with despair. Like Ponce de Leon searching for the Fountain of Youth, America’s first black president is engaged in a fruitless quest.

There is no fountain of youth. And I am convinced there is no political center.

The so-called center is a motley mass of low-information, confused citizens who cast their votes for the most unlikely reasons. Name recognition… Something a buddy or coworker told them… Family tradition… Bigotry of one kind or another…

I am no political scientist and I am certainly not equipped to contradict Melissa Harris-Lacewell (photo above, right). The Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University was a guest on Keith Olbermann’s TV show last night, and she talked about a moderate middle group that traditionally dominates American politics.

She cited the results of Tuesday’s Republican primaries, in which the extremist Tea Party movement made a dismal showing. Nearly all of the movement’s favored candidates lost. Mainstream candidates swept the Republican races.

But I would respectfully suggest to Professor Harris-Lacewell that in today’s environment it would be euphoric to describe Republican “mainstream” candidates as “moderates.” I don’t see them occupying the”center.”  They seem rather radical to me.

I’ve seen no sign so far that Republican politicians are prepared to “cross the aisle” to give the president a hand in the task of rescuing America from the very real prospect of a second Great Depression.

The president’s “bipartisanship” has been a one-way street.

Like a lot of other “progressives,” I am disappointed by President Obama’s track record so far.

However, I’m not as disillusioned as an activist quoted in Robert Reich’s blog (“The Enthusiasm Gap and You”) yesterday:

A friend whom I’ll call David raised a ton of money for Democrats in 2008 and now tells me they can go to hell. He’s furious about the no-strings bailout of Wall Street, the absence of a public option in health reform, financial reform that doesn’t cap the size of banks or reinstate the Glass-Steagall wall between investment and commercial banking, and a stimulus that was too small to do much good but big enough to give Republicans a campaign issue. He’s also upset about tens of thousands of additional troops being sent to Afghanistan, a watered-down cap-and-trade bill that’s going nowhere, and no Employee Free Choice Act. David won’t raise a penny this fall and doubts he’ll even vote. “I busted my chops getting them elected, and they caved,” he fumes. “They’re all lily-livered wimps, and Obama has the backbone of a worm.”

You can read Reich’s blogs here:

Unlike “David,” I am not “furious” with Obama. But the president does make me sad. I can’t believe such an intelligent person would pursue some of his policies. Who is he cozying up to when he relaxes regulations to encourage the export of arms from America? When he talks nice to Israeli leaders who want to bomb Iran? When he sends thousands more troops to risk their lives in that horrible Afghan adventure?

What does he hope to gain by whittling down reform legislation in response to Republican proposals? Doesn’t he realize they won’t vote for the legislation anyway?

Reich blames the president’s failures on the lukewarm support he has received.

“The Republican base is part of a conservative movement,” the former labor secretary (photo above, left) writes. “The Democratic base, by contrast, is a loose coalition that elects a new president and then goes home, expecting the new president to deliver miracles.”

I would add that some of the Democrats in Congress have turned out to be traitors. Democratic politicians like Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska have been shamefully disloyal to Obama’s agenda.

But, to me, that does not excuse the president’s willingness to compromise away his principles.

I will vote for Obama’s allies in November, of course. To stay home as Reich’s “David” proposes would be cutting off my nose to spite my face. But – despite Reich’s entreaties – I will do so without much enthusiasm.

My mother used to tell me that between two stools you fall to the ground. And I fear that’s what might happen to President Obama and his “bipartisan” allies.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for