By MARK PENN
Published October 7, 2008
My polling over the years has found that about two-thirds of Democrats define themselves as moderate, while two-thirds of Republicans see themselves as conservative. That polling trend was mirrored in the initial unsuccessful Sept. 29 House vote on the financial bailout proposal: Democrats were divided, with 60 percent of members in favor, while Republicans opposed the measure 2-to-1.
The 228-205 defeat saw the left and right team up against the center, revealing the fundamental unfulfilled divide in American politics today. Centrists viewed it as common sense to shore up the credit markets to stabilize America’s economic condition, which the president and others saw as on the verge of collapse. Yet to the right, it was an unacceptable intrusion by the federal government into the marketplace. And to the left, it was an unacceptable bailout of the rich on Wall Street. Together, they were successful in holding back the winds of change, if only temporarily, as a modified version of the bailout proposal was enacted four days later.
The two-party system works against moderates in Congress: Each side is a fusion of moderate and either left or right elements. So even though voters have repeatedly rejected politics too far to the right or left, the vital center often gets lost in the debate.