In 2018, the definition of a political centrist has become someone who is despised by the far-left and the far-right, which gives them all the credibility they need in mainstream America.
With hyper-partisan polarization among the nation’s electorate showing no signs of letting up, and with independent candidates for various offices making little headway, the devoted centrists within the political arena refuse to fade away.
In fact, the newest development is a trend toward conservative and liberal policy research groups – so-called “think tanks” — teaming up to offer an amalgamation of pragmatic, solutions-based policy proposals that offer a mix of ideas from both sides of the political spectrum.
The much-maligned David Brooks, the center-right columnist for the New York Times, wrote a piece published on Thursday that noted, “suddenly there is a flurry of working together across ideological lines.” The reason for this unlikely development is that serious policy analysts on both sides of the partisan aisle now see a political world in which the maneuvering on Capitol Hill, and the outrageous claims made in congressional campaigns, have little connection to reality.
“Washington think tanks are undergoing a fundamental evolution,” Brooks wrote. “A lot of them, like the (conservative) American Enterprise Institute and the (liberal) Brookings Institution, were built to advise parties that no longer exist.
“They were built for a style of public debate — based on social science evidence and congressional hearings that are more than just show trials — that no longer exists. Many people at these places have discovered that they have more in common with one another than they do with the extremists on their own sides.”
Brooks points to a new bipartisan study “Work, Skills, Community: Restoring Opportunity for the Working Class” produced by the group Opportunity America, along with Brookings and AEI. The study focuses on those blue-collar, “working poor” families that propelled Donald Trump to the presidency, but the document casts aside pure politics and election outcomes.
The report was written by a wide array of scholars, who focused on data and cast aside bumper-sticker slogans coming from the extremes of the left and right. The result is a broad left/right treatise that ignores the traditional congressional rhetoric divided between big tax cuts and big federal spending programs.
Keeping in mind that this is an intensely focused bipartisan effort, the authors’ output is a mainstream America plan for the beleaguered working class that embraces tax-based wage subsidies, a rejection of free college for all, support for widespread parental leave benefits, work requirements for some federal benefits, and substantial child care tax credits.
In a true welcoming of problem-solving techniques, the recommendations are mostly based on economics, but they offer a chilling picture of the social decline among America’s ignored working-class families:
Since the late 1970s and still today, working-class America is bearing the brunt of automation and globalization: entire industries are disappearing, and wages have been flat since the 1970s. Marriage has declined faster among the working class than in any other group, richer or poorer.
Civic institutions that once sustained blue-collar enclaves—churches, union halls, neighborhood associations, the local VFW or Lions Club—are closing their doors or moving elsewhere. And as the social fabric frays, a host of new problems are arising, from opioid addiction to … “deaths of despair” caused by drugs, alcohol or suicide and correlated with distress and social dysfunction.
Looking back, it’s clear that we as a nation should have seen the problem coming: the symptoms were stark and alarming. Still, for all the attention of the past two years, it isn’t clear that anyone, left or right, understands working-class America.