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Can a centrist movement succeed?

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In South Carolina, Republican Rep. Bob Inglis lost because he wouldn't demonize Barack Obama. In a recent interview, he told me that he refused to say that Obama is a Muslim, or that he wasn't born in the United States, or that the president is a socialist. Inglis was warned by a Republican operative that conceding Obama's legitimacy would cause him problems. Indeed, Inglis lost to a Tea Party candidate.

Inglis is otherwise one of the rational conservatives who dare to suggest that, yes, we have to make painful cuts in entitlements. And, heresy of all, he acknowledges that climate change is real and that a carbon tax, offset by tax cuts elsewhere, is a plausible approach to regulation.

Inglis's measured, thoughtful tone corresponds to a different school of political thought than what has dominated this past political season. Rational and calm, he resisted the finger-pointing and hyperbole that tend to capture attention and votes.

Can an Inglis ever survive in such a culture? If not, what are we left with?

The answer may be partially evident in the write-in election victory of Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. The first successful write-in candidate in a U.S. Senate race since Strom Thurmond was elected in 1954, Murkowski won the third way. Defeated in the Republican primary by Sarah Palin's pick, Joe Miller, Murkowski refused to fade into history's index of has-beens.

She kept her seat by promoting ideas and solutions and by rebuking partisanship.

Alaskans are by nature independent and reliably rogue, as the nation has witnessed. Thus it may be too convenient to draw conclusions about a broader movement, but centrism has a place at the table by virtue of the sheer numbers of middle Americans, the depth of their disgust and the magnitude of our problems.

All that's missing from a centrist movement that could be formidable is a leader.

Anyone?

kathleenparker@washpost.com


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