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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

An Important Message from Editor Ed Kilgore: There Are Two Very Distinct Kinds of “Centrism.”

A big brouhaha broke out last week over a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Jon Cowen and Jim Kessler of the Third Way organization. These gents penned an intemperately worded attack on Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio, and “economic populism” generally, while advancing deficit-hawky rhetoric about the need for “entitlement reform.”
As a veteran myself of centrist/populist battles over the years and also as long-time editor of The Democratic Strategist which is firmly and emphatically committed to advancing both Democratic unity and intra-democratic civility, I’m reasonably sure the Cowen-Kessler piece was deliberately intended as a provocation to create a fight the authors very much wanted to have. In contrast to the op-ed, Warren and de Blasio have not called for any sort of intra-Democratic Party purge, and both are operating entirely within the zone of acceptable progressive opinion. The op-ed’s wholesale condemnation of populism, and belligerence towards the New Deal programs–published, moreover, in the chief organ of Wall Street finance capital rather than some more neutral venue–was certain to draw blood and then fire, which is exactly what happened.
But I would hope that progressives who are currently beating up on Third Way as the embodiment of Democratic “centrism” will pause for a moment to recognize that there is also a very different kind of centrism that exists within the Democratic coalition–one that is neither reflexively anti-populist nor intentionally divisive. A much better representation of the tone among what I consider genuine centrists is a brief symposium published yesterday by the Brookings Institution in which five wonks who are typically associated with Democratic “moderates” (Thomas Mann, Bill Galston, Elaine Kamarck, Molly Jackman and Michael O’Hanlon) suggest what they think should have been in today’s budget deal. You don’t have to agree with all their suggestions–I certainly don’t–to acknowledge their tone and objective of civil discussion rather than civil war.
So if I may be so bold as to make a very emphatic recommendation to all members of the progressive and Democratic communities, next time you read any “centrist” broadside or manifesto expressed in highly provocative and divisive terms that seeks to foment a highly public battle over the direction of the Democratic Party, pause to consider the motives of the authors and don’t cooperate in defining them as the exclusive spokespeople for entire sectors of the Democratic coalition, when all they may actually represent is a far smaller group with an aching hunger for more media attention and new, well-heeled financial donors.
Ed Kilgore
Managing Editor

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