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How a Balanced Candidate Might Win the Presidency

By Herb Bowie

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Woman stand up paddle boarding on a pristine mountain lake

I wrote recently to express my skepticism about the chances of a centrist candidate becoming our next U.S. president.

I write today to share my belief that a balanced candidate might well win.

What do I mean by political balance?

Avoid the Extremes

There are certain positions, phrases and characteristics that will clearly scare away large numbers of voters. Here are a few examples.

  • Talk of “open borders” or any seeming blanket endorsement of all immigration.
  • Any argument for social welfare programs starting with the assertion that “We are the richest nation on earth.” (Most voters don’t feel wealthy, so all this phrase does is make them reach for their wallets to make sure their money and credit cards are still present.)
  • Support for a new “Tommy Guns for Teachers” program as a means of reducing gun violence in schools.
  • Comparisons to other countries that make it sound like all our problems would be easily solved if we would just copy Sweden. Or Australia. Or some other country so different from the U.S. that comparisons immediately mark the speaker as out of touch with the realities of American history and geography, as well as contemporary reality.

I would also argue that it would be good to find a balance between youthful enthusiasm and the wisdom of experience. Our Constitution provides useful limits on one end (no chance of AOC running until she turns 35!), but leaves it up to the discretion of parties and voters to draw the line on the other side. For my money, I’d draw the upward bound at 69 years of age. Trump was our first president to enter office at the age of 70 or over, and I’m not convinced the experiment has turned out all that well.

Barry Goldwater famously asserted that “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” but the results of the 1964 presidential election indicate that self-identifying as an extremist never won anyone a national election.

A Balanced Set of Experiences

Managers often talk about the difference between an employee who has had ten years of experience, vs. someone who has experienced the same year ten times.

I think voters instinctively assess candidates in a similar fashion, and distrust those who seem to have spent their entire careers focusing on one particular niche. It’s hard to trust a one-dimensional candidate, because all they’ve proven is their ability to master one narrow area. But once a candidate shows you how they have behaved in two or three different areas, voters gain a better sense of who they are as a person.

A Balanced Set of Stakeholders

Want to help out labor?

That’s great, so long as it’s not done to the exclusion of business interests.

Want to protect the environment?

Super. So long as you keep the needs of business and workers in mind.

Want to lend a helping hand to business?

OK. Just remember the legitimate rights and needs of consumers.

Labor, capital, consumers, communities: a balanced candidate needs to keep all of these in mind.

A Balanced Set of Issues

Here is a list of potential issues for voters and candidates to wrestle with in the 2020 elections:

  • Immigration and border security
  • Income inequality
  • Environmental protections
  • Foreign relations
  • Military strength
  • Social services
  • Education
  • Equal rights for all citizens
  • The influence of money in politics
  • Government inefficiency
  • Complexity of laws and regulations
  • The dominant power of large companies
  • Gun violence

This is an intimidating list, and no candidate can effectively talk about all of these at once. Yet all of these are discussed regularly by the media, and all of these are on voters’ minds, and all of these are hot buttons for significant numbers of voters.

It’s hard to see how a candidate focusing on only one of these issues – or even any two or three – can win the confidence of a majority of voters. I contend that a successful candidate will need to craft meaningful positions on all or most of these.

For additional thoughts on this topic see my previous post, offering “My List of Requirements for our Next President” in greater detail.

Shared Interests

Despite what it may sometimes seem, there are a number of things that most Americans care about:

  • A better future for our children
  • The American dream, offering an opportunity for all to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
  • Mindful use of our abundant natural resources
  • A successful, shared culture
  • Caring for our neighbors when they’re in need
  • Meaningful labor with decent wages for those willing to work
  • A chance for everyone to build a better life for themselves and their families

A well-balanced candidate will touch on all of these themes.

A Balanced Set of Principles

Issues come and go, proposed solutions appear and then fade away, and voters can often and sometimes unpredictably change their minds about both.

On the other hand, a simple set of balanced principles, if observed consistently, can impress voters with their powers of endurance.

Here are some suggestions:

  • The primary role of U.S. government is to protect and serve U.S. citizens. It cannot be seen to be a burden on its citizens or on industry, and it cannot operate for the benefit of other countries and their citizens.
  • We need to strike a balance between the welfare of current citizens and the welfare of future generations. Both are important; neither can be sacrificed for the other.
  • Our society rewards those willing to work, with greater rewards for those who work smarter and harder.
  • We believe in the value of competition when it is exercised on a level playing field.
  • We can embrace change in the form of progress, especially when it comes about via new technology that makes our lives easier and more rewarding; we will resent change that makes our lives more difficult and less rewarding.
  • Education must be available as needed to help all of our citizens become and remain informed and productive members of our society.

A Centrist by any Other Name…?

Is balance just another name for centrism?

If the times were different, one might make that case.

The chief challenge for an avowed centrist is their willingness to define themselves in relationship to the left and the right, based on the assumption that they both stray too far along a single spectrum from some ideal norm.

These days, though, it’s hard to reach agreement in our society on what a desired norm might look like, it’s hard to figure out exactly what either the right or the left stand for, there is no single primary spectrum separating the two, and it’s hard to understand how far to the left or the right might be too far.

So much for centrism.

The idea of balance, though, can be applied more broadly in a variety of contexts, as I’ve tried to show above.

I ended my previous piece by conjuring up an image of a centrist as a jet ski that’s lost its rider, endlessly circling in one place until someone comes along to claim it.

A more inspiring image is that of a balanced athlete, ready to embark on a new journey and prepared to face new challenges.

I know which one would get my vote.

Published 2019 Mar 25

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