The imperiled political center

Opinion column by Leigh Morris, former mayor of LaPorte and former chairman of the LaPorte County Republican Party
The other day, I was driving down a road that was recently repaved but had not yet had striping to designate traffic lanes. It occurred to me that the signs cautioning drivers could well apply to voters as well:
As a political centrist, I’m beginning to think of myself as a part of an endangered species. It seems to me that the political center—the middle of the political road—has been shrinking rapidly, allowing the far left and the far right to increasingly dominate the political scene. Nowhere is that more evident than in the U.S. Congress, where there’s been such deterioration in the capacity to carry out its important role in dealing with scores of major issues.
No Labels, a group that advocates rising above partisanship, has evaluated our current political climate this way:
The far right and far left are holding America hostage—becoming ever more strident, uncompromising and making governance impossible. They are small in number but drive the national agenda because they are organized, because they vote, contribute to and volunteer for campaigns. In short, they show up, while the vast political center has remained on the sidelines.

Leigh Morris

Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman feels that one of the reasons that extremists are dominating so much of the political process is that the major political parties have become more ideological and fewer and fewer people are voting. She observed that political parties “used to be like umbrellas, where you had a central handle which was the shared core beliefs, and then you had all the spokes that held up the canopy, and those were different ways of interpreting those beliefs. But you could still have that central core.”
I’m a student of history, and I’ve been looking increasingly at the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower. Ike was a centrist. He called his political philosophy “The Middle Way.” He appealed to the majority of Americans by being neither a reactionary nor a socialist; neither an appeaser nor a warmonger.
Ike disliked extremists and demagogues, believing the far left and right were wrong on all political and moral issues. He referred to the political spectrum as a bowling alley and the extremes as the “gutters” and said he was on the right track when getting attacked by “both sides.”
In his book, “The White House Years,” author Jim Newton noted that Ike ‘was a gentleman, not a bomb thrower. He did not publicly insult opponents by name. He also avoided criticizing the intelligence and motives of other politicians, believing this was impolite and unforgivable.”
Times have clearly changed since the 1950s when Ike’s Middle Way enabled the political parties and three branches of our federal government to function productively. However, I think Ike’s basic principles are still valid. Revisiting them could lead us away from the current gridlock that comes from the prevalent “my way or the highway” approach to governing. I hope and pray we can find a way to regain some of the many advantages of Ike’s Middle Way.

6 Responses to “The imperiled political center”

  1. Scotty Ford

    Aug 28. 2019

    Leigh:
    I agree that the art of compromise is lacking in national debate. The problem lies in social media, lack of journalistic integrity, and the news media. Social media allows conspiracy theories to propagate. The news media has become a voice of promotion versus a check on check on political views. False statements aren’t challenged and people tend to listen to the news they agree with, so people tend to only hear one side of the argument. Today it’s fake news when the president doesn’t like or agree with the news of the day. Propaganda and false patriotism has replaced the great American values of questing authority and challenging leadership based on spirited debate of issues. Nationalistic rhetoric must be challenged and compromise is the only way we can solve the huge problems facing this country.

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  2. Michael Rogers

    Aug 28. 2019

    Mayor Morris is a smart guy, but I’m surprised he didn’t recognize or acknowledge one of the biggest factors in the polarization of our politics: gerrymandering and partisan redistricting.

    I’m a strong believer that by enacting nonpartisan redistricting commissions rather than leaving the process up to elected officials, we could bring cooperation and compromise back into fashion locally, at the state level, and nationally.

    Creating competitive electoral districts would challenge candidates to compete for the center, rather than their party’s base in a safely-drawn district. Candidates would have to run on a balanced plan or get washed out by another candidate with broader appeal over a toss-up electorate. Similarly elected officeholders would be motivated to cooperate across the aisle and build consensus rather than drive a strictly partisan agenda, for fear of alienating a competitive district.

    This SHOULD be a simple tweak to our political system but as long as the people who hold the offices also hold the keys to their reelections, it will be hard to enact. We must change that and soon, or else faith in our political system will be too damaged to recover.

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  3. lawman

    Aug 28. 2019

    Scotty- you say false statements aren’t challenged. then several words later you say the president calls what he doesn’t like ”fake news” I call that ”challenging the media”.

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    • Scotty Ford

      Aug 29. 2019

      I should have said the voting public doesn’t challenge the media stories of the news they listen to. Trump doesn’t believe anything that doesn’t help his cause or re-election including science and factual information from non-partisan sources. Example that Russia interfered in the election based on facts from our intelligence agencies!

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  4. Rob

    Aug 28. 2019

    I see no partisanship, I see the rich and wealthy working for their own self interests.
    If you think they work for us, you’re crazy.
    The only thing they’ve done in the past two years is give themselves a tax cut.

    Reply to this comment
  5. lawman

    Aug 30. 2019

    I gather you drive in the ”left” lane as they do nothing further their causes or help their elections in any way

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