Sunday, July 11, 2010

No Room for Moderates

There is an interesting piece in today's New York Times assessing the position of Arnold Schwarzenegger near the end of his governorship.  The article points out how deeply unpopular Schwarzenegger has become, and compares him to other political independents who have found themselves without any friends in either party.  Schwarzenegger had the bad luck to serve during one of the state's worst budget crises.  Instead of being given credit for patching things up in a way that may enable the state to emerge from the crisis, he is blamed for the continued political breakdowns that make it nearly impossible for the state to get its fiscal house in order.  Despite the common perception of Schwarzenegger as a failure, however, the article points out that he will still leave a legacy of some notable reforms, including reforming the primary system and instituting non-partisan redistricting, as well as significant reforms in the prison system and workers' compensation. 

Political independents and moderates decide elections at the national level, and often at the level of governors' and Senate races as well.  But politicians representing the middle of the spectrum have difficulty getting elected (because of the primary system), and rarely emerge as successful once they are in office (because they have few supporters from either party).  Schwarzenegger is a good example of a politician who was supremely popular as a candidate, but probably would never have gotten nominated for the first time in a Republican primary, and whose shifting allegiances during his governorship make him distrusted by both Democrats and Republicans in the legislature.   Other politicians who have tried to follow this path include Jesse Ventura, Joe Lieberman, Lowell Weicker, Michael Bloomberg, and John McCain.   All found success as independents or moderates, but all found that when the going gets tough, they have few allies.

Barack Obama has also faced these difficulties to some extent, promising to govern in a post-partisan manner, but then angering Republicans as well as his Democratic supporters when he tried in office to steer what he thought was a middle course.  Republicans still denounce him as a socialist, while the left wing of the Democratic Party believes he compromised too much to satisfy the financial industry, the militarists and the health insurance industry.   I think Obama understands, however, that he needs to keep his feet planted firmly within the Democratic Party, while continuing to try to govern as a consensus-builder.  That is why we will see him making frequent campaign appearances at partisan rallies this fall, while approaching Congress even more pragmatically with the looming prospect of a smaller Democratic majority in Congress. 

(New York Times illustration)


  1. I can't believe that Arnie has been in office for seven years...time goes quick.

    In California, Big Labor rules. And they will crush anyone that gets in their way. Heck, they made mince meat and a lame duck of Arnold Schwchenneger when he tried to curb their power back in 2005. While I don't think that Schwchenneger's governorship is a complete failure, poor Arnie tried to be liked by everyone and instead became a convenient pinata. I still don't understand why he ran again for the office. He must be a glutton for punishment.

    I have a funny feeling Mr. Obama will tone down his "party of no" rhetoric after November 5th.

  2. Arnold's problem was he promised "reform" but Democrats didn't like that. His voter initiatives when he first took office enraged special interests and he went down in flames. Then he caved to Democrats and Republicans called him a traitor. He even doubled the car tax when that's why Davis was recalled.

  3. California is a shining example of a broken political system. I can only hope some of the reforms we achieved recently that may result in less left/right extremes being elected reduces gridlock in Sacramento. California has been and will continue to be an example of what's wrong with America as a whole.