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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

“Center-Right of the Democratic Party”

I’m with Ta-Nehisi Coates on this one: it’s just confusing gibberish to talk, as Fred Barnes has recently, of Hillary Clinton representing the “center-right of the Democratic Party.” I mean, the “center-right nation” argument is ridiculous enough, without exporting that term directly into the heart of the Donkey Party.
In common parlance, the terms “left” and “right” are not purely relative terms. They convey an association with, respectively, liberal or progressive ideology or conservative ideology. Unless party factions are large and hardened enough to split into three distinct ideological tendencies (left-center-right) that completely cross party lines, there’s no good reason to use the term “left” for Republicans or “right” for Democrats. That way lies total confusion.
Sure, there are a significant number (generally a bit over 20%) of rank-and-file self-identified Democrats who also self-identify as “conservative,” given the usual “liberal-moderate-conservative” choices. And there are a smaller percentage of Democratic elected officials who might fit that description; the Blue Dog Coalition in Congress calls itself an assemblage of “moderate and conservative Democrats.”
But applying that term or “center-right” to people like Hillary Clinton, who disagrees with Republicans on virtually every major issue, is absurd. You might as well call John McCain a representative of the “center-left of the Republican Party.”
The truth is that when you hear someone refer to “conservative Democrats” or “center-right Democrats,” it’s almost always intended as an insult if it comes from a progressive or as a back-handed compliment if it comes from a conservative. In the case of Fred Barnes, it’s of a piece with a lot of the praise being currently and temporarily dished out by Republicans towards Barack Obama’s appointments. It’s mainly a provocation designed to increase tensions among Democrats. We shouldn’t fall for it.

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