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Can a centrist movement succeed?

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By Kathleen Parker
Sunday, November 28, 2010

In a political culture where moderation is the new heresy, centrism is fast becoming the new black.

Political outliers - not quite Republican, not quite Democrat - are forming new alliances in a communal search for "Home." Exhausted by extremism and aching for real change, more and more Americans are moving away from demagoguery and toward pragmatism.

Soon they may have options. A new political group, No Labels ( www.nolabels.org ), is hoping to mobilize and support a centrist political movement. Led by Republican strategist Mark McKinnon and Democratic fundraiser Nancy Jacobson, the organization has raised more than $1 million so far - and the formal launch isn't until next month. Backers include Andrew Tisch, co-chair of Loews Corp.; Ron Shaich, founder of Panera Bread; and Dave Morin, a former Facebook executive.

The group hopes to attract politicians who feel that they've lost elections for being too moderate and voters who feel homeless. There are plenty of each.

Congress's historically low approval ratings, the anti-incumbency spirit of the midterm elections and the influx of Tea Party-backed candidates - not to mention Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart's well-attended "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" - are all testament to dissatisfaction with Washington's systemic failings.

Alas, there is little reason to hope that things will change or improve when the new Congress convenes in January. Republicans seem determined to continue their "hell no" strategy. New Tea Party legislators seem determined to fight establishment Republicans, thus diluting Republican power. Democrats aim to dig in their heels.

Witness recent reaction to the preliminary bipartisan fiscal reforms recommended by Erskine Bowles (Democrat) and Alan Simpson (Republican), both respected for their nonpartisan approach to problem-solving. Neither party was enthusiastic, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi objecting most strenuously. "Hell no" isn't just for Republicans anymore.

All of which points to more gridlock.

When the porridge is either too hot or too cold, the moment for something in between is ripe. More Americans now self-identify as independent rather than Republican or Democrat, even though they may be forced by a lack of alternatives to vote in traditional ways.

But what if there were an alternative? There's little appealing about either party dominated by a base that bears little resemblance to who we are as a nation or the way most of us live our lives.

Yet moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans alike have been banished. Purged, really. Some of them have landed in the No Labels camp.

Jun Choi, a Democratic former mayor of Edison, N.J., told the Wall Street Journal he lost because he wasn't extreme enough. Maggie Hassan, a New Hampshire state senator, thinks she lost for being too moderate.


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