Centrism has failed in American politics

Centrism has largely failed American voters with weak promises and little change. Graphic by Maria Nevada

Grant Gaden

In the wake of the election of President Donald Trump and the growing left-ward movement by congressmembers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, NY-D, and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sander’s progressive platform gaining traction in the 2020 election, many political pundits and politicians have called for a return from political extremes.

The unfortunate reality though is the election of Donald Trump has fundamentally changed American politics and in large part because of the unappealing message of centrist candidates of recent past like Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The exciting message of change presented by Obama in the 2008 election, in the middle of the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression, seemed like a major change for millions of Americans. Unfortunately, like the presidency and scandal of the Bill Clinton administration Democratic voters were left disappointed by another ambitious message of change.

In reality during that time Clinton oversaw the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Even Clinton himself in 2015 admitted was a mistake in a speech to the NAACP according to CNN.

Obama held bold campaign platforms like the Affordable Healthcare Act and pulling military support from the Middle East. Ultimately, it left us with an even more complicated health care system and at the end of his second term we found ourselves involved in Syria as well.

The best example of why centrism isn’t appealing to people, was in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign against Trump, that saw her tour the country essentially reminding voters that she wasn’t Donald Trump. At the same time, she was failing to appeal to younger voters that Obama won over in 2008 and 2012.

Her 2016 campaign message had little to no policies or platforms and might as well have been “Hillary 2020, I’m not Trump,” which unsurprisingly was drowned out by chants to “build that wall” and “lock her up” from the other side.

In hindsight we can sit around and point fingers about whose fault it was for Trump’s victory, but fundamentally Democrats have been coasting off a weak centrist platform that doesn’t propose anything besides token improvements. Which leads us up to now where most voters just agree Trump needs to go, but outside of new additions to congress like Rep. Ocasio-Cortez from New York and Rep. Ilhan Omar Democrats have done little to adjust their message going into 2020.

In fact, senior centrist Democrats in Congress likeDiana Feinstein and Nancy Pelosihave separated themselves from popular legislation proposals like the Green New Deal put forth by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. A December poll found the proposal was supported by 92 percent of registered Democrats according to the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

Centrist policy of token change toward a problem just won’t solve current world problems as 2018 reports from the United Nations suggest we could see crisis levels of food shortage and coastal flooding as soon as 2040. The policies that centrist politicians favor aren’t fundamentally bad, but the inability to adapt to the large changes happening around us; economically, demographically, and technologically, means we need large scale solutions that aren’t being supported by centrist.

Ideas of the new left-wing only seem extreme in comparison to our current politics because of the absence of a strong left-wing alternative to “trickledown economics” that started with Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

The idea of ‘Medicare for All’ only sounds impractical because for the past few decades, wealthy politicians and business owners have tried to persuade us that the increase in taxes would have dramatic effects to the economy. The reality is the highest marginal tax rates were well above 50% on the wealthiest Americans for most of the 20thcentury before the idea of Reaganomics and decreasing taxes on the wealthy to increase economic growth became prevalent.

Centrism has been a prevalent American ideology on the left and right for most of American history. But if the election of Donald Trump shows us anything, Americans are ready for change which people saw in his calls for building a border wall and promises to bring American jobs back from overseas.

Trump’s populist message appealed to a population that largely hadn’t voted in previous elections but connected to his message because it was targeted toward improving their lives. Over half-way through President Trump’s first term and heading into the 2020 election people who voted for him are losing hope he’ll carry out his campaign promises, but Democrats have their own populist candidate in Sanders without all the scandal, prejudiced and incompetence, and have a chance to deliver the change that average Americans have been looking for, more so than any centrist Democrats in the running.