By Herb Bowie
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?
There are certain positions, phrases and characteristics that will clearly scare away large numbers of voters. Here are a few examples.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a list of potential issues for voters and candidates to wrestle with in the 2020 elections:
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.
Despite what it may sometimes seem, there are a number of things that most Americans care about:
A well-balanced candidate will touch on all of these themes.
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:
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