Notebook, 14 September 2015: Left, right and center

A rare political post today, due to the media’s failure to notice the 800 pound gorilla sitting right next to them in the room. Tories in the UK think they can ride to victory over Labour’s choice of Jeremy Corbyn to lead the party and in a rare bipartisan consensus, centrist Labour agrees wholeheartedly. Yet Corbyn won in a landslide, taking 59.5% of the Labour vote. In the United States, centrist Hillary Clinton is beginning to slip, with at least one poll putting Bernie Sanders in the lead in Iowa and New Hampshire, well outside the margin of error, please note. That particular poll may be an outlier, yet it confirms a long term trend in which Sanders has steadily eroded Clinton’s lead in the last weeks. Also in the US, Donald Trump creates quite the storm by leading, and leading, and continuing to lead the (admittedly weak) field of GOP hopefuls.

What Trump, Sanders and Corbyn, along with Alexis Tsipras in Greece and Pablo Iglesias in Spain, all have in common is that they’re outside political party mainstream establishments, which voters rightly conclude are captured by wealthy interests and voters are in rebellion.

So how does this play out? Well, let’s look at the alternatives. The right proposes that political systems change from one-person-one-vote to something more akin to one-dollar-one-vote. The left’s proposals are fuzzy, though even the mainstream “left” in the US agrees that a constitutional amendment is called for, but one thing is clear: they’re against an autocratic right wing agenda.

So where’s the political “center” in all this? Nowhere, of course. Where they always are. It’s time we recognize that the center has no ideology or agenda other than not rocking the boat, maintaining the status quo and offering excuses to do nothing. The center breaks right or left or both, depending on whose radical rhetoric they appropriate, but have nothing to offer themselves. In legislative and policy terms, this amounts to accepting the status quo as the “center” offers only its rejection of the policy preferences at the poles. I’m not saying this is never a viable position, but it is always a weakness, and one that the left (but not the right) has failed to exploit. Somehow, “we’re not as rabid as the right wing” fails to inspire.

So the body politic is polarizing and I am totally fine with this. While there’s ample evidence that rank and file working-class Americans are far from radicalized, political polarization brings the real debate to the surface, and that’s both a discussion we badly need to have as well as one I feel pretty confident the left can win.