I’m kind of surprised, but it seems that my most controversial political opinion is that the majority don’t live at “the centre”. And, indeed, there is no centre worth occupying. Most people have an intuition that there are people to the left of them, and people to the right of them, so they must be (roughly) “in the middle”.
Furthermore, most people believe that most other people are “in the middle”. And that this is the “sensible” place to be. The most “reasonable” position to stake out. And certainly the place where most of the votes are. I, OTOH, think that “the middle” is an artificial fiction. The equivalent of the old statistics joke that the average human has one breast and one testicle.
I explain this by saying “policy isn’t fungible”. You can have higher taxation and a public hospital. Or lower taxation and no hospital. But it doesn’t make sense to have a bit of extra taxation and half a hospital. Similarly, you can build a large army and go to war for your foreign policy objectives. Or not build a large army and negotiate a peaceful international order. But woe betide you if you try to fight a war on the cheap without investing in the army.
Most of the time, “split the difference” between two opposing proposals doesn’t give you a better, more popular proposal. It gives you an uncomfortable kludge which everyone comes to hate. This is why, for example, I think Obamacare is widely criticised in the US. And why the Liberal Democrats have never had many seats in the UK parliament (nor will they start to have more seats now.) Policies like public-private initiatives were an attempt by centre-left, “third way” parties to make public finance more fungible by finding a half-way place between public finance and private finance. But have instead been revealed as an expensive and inefficient way for the public to finance anything.
Not only are policies from the middle not good policies. They aren’t even popular. Instead, there are a range of policies that people either like or don’t like. We mistakenly call the ones that have a consensus around them, the “centre”. But they aren’t. In America, a welfare state is considered extreme leftism. In Germany, it’s pragmatic conservatism. There is no absolute truth about “where” such a policy rightly sits. There is just the policy itself, and how popular it is at the moment (which is the result of a bunch of historical factors.) Nevertheless, there are continual siren voices calling for politicians to “move back to the centre”. Who say that going “to the extreme” is political suicide.
I, on the other hand, think the opposite. That the centre is the “kill zone”. A place where political parties go to be annihilated. The problem is this : whatever your political persuasion, if you start to move “towards the centre”, you are publicly valorizing your opponent’s position. When you reach the centre, you now struggle to differentiate yourself from the opponent who is seen as the standard-bearer of the values you have just publicly conceded to. No product can succeed in the market if it can’t differentiate itself from the generic / norm / average of all the other products. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you automatically win at an extreme. Clearly not all extremes can win at the same time. And many extremes can and will lose badly. But at least you have a chance of success at the extreme. Whereas you are 100% guaranteed to lose in the centre.
It’s going to be interesting to watch Macron’s “radical centre” government in France. I think he won more with his claim to be radically different than his claim to be at the centre. If his government succeeds it will be because he found a new extreme. Not because he successfully pursued policies that were the average of what everyone else said they wanted.
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Quora Answer : Are Obama/Clinton policies the reason why we have Trump as President?
To an extent, yes.
They presided over a decline in America's industrial base, which has created large numbers of working class people who used to be living pretty well - when the US economy was both booming and Keynesian policies were ensuring that the working class got a reasonable share of the spoils - who have now, individually and communally, fallen on hard times.
It was the Republicans who destroyed the system that ensured that workers were reasonably paid. By attacking unions, removing protections, and promoting global trade.
But the two chances that the Democrats had to go back and re-establish the protections, and create some kind of "new deal" that bolstered those poorer post-industrial communities, they wimped out. Preferring not to alienate Wall Street and other big business with policies that looked "too left-wing". Clinton and Obama are "third wayists" who bought into the neoliberal ideology of Reagan. And refused to confront it directly.
So despite 16 years in power, Obama and Clinton are guilty of neglect, during which a large chunk of working-class communities saw ongoing decline.
By the time it came to the 2016 election, with those communities still suffering that long term economic decline, compounded by the ongoing effects of the 2008 crisis, Hillary Clinton literally had nothing to say to those people.
When Trump said things were bad, Hillary tried to insist that there were no problems.
Trump's understanding of those problems is idiotic. His "solutions" are bogus. Nothing but the prejudices of a right-wing buffoon fed talking points by alt.right conspiracy sites and right-wing think-tanks.
BUT ... at least he acknowledged there were problems and seemed to be offering some kind of solution.
Whereas Hillary's campaign obviously had nothing on offer at all to the working-class who were part of the Democrats' traditional base.
What she did say was either just platitudes, or last-minute unconvincing cribs from Bernie Sanders. She made no apology for the failure of 8 years of Obama to actually do anything about those problems. Nor did she give any explanation of how she would change tack and do better. She left the space completely open for the right-wing to offer their theories of America's decline and their solutions to them.
Instead she focused on identity politics.
There's nothing wrong with opposing racism. Or supporting women. Any left-wing candidate must and will do that.
But you can't be the leader of the party which is ostensibly the "left wing" party in a two party system, and pretend that economic inequality / economic oppression / class-war doesn't exist or isn't a problem.
Clinton, Obama and finally Hillary (and all the "establishment" like Nancy Pelosi etc.) led the Democrats away from being the party of a working class fighting for its fair share of America's wealth.
And they paid the price. They left the window open for far-right nationalistic, xenophobic, racist, "America first" proto-fascism to sweep in and claim that it was the real champion of working Americans.
This is not meant to be a personal attack on Hillary. Hillary was just the front for an entire establishment machine that failed catastrophically in 2016.
Because, seriously, how badly do you have to have fucking played it, when an entitled tax-dodging, self-described billionaire, who lives in a gold-plated New York penthouse, is better at convincing "ordinary Americans" that he is on their side than you and your entire party are?
I mean, Get. Fucking. Real!
Everyone still kind of knows that the Republicans are the party of rich fuckers who will screw over the working class. And yet Trump is so good at pretending to be a man of the people that he overcomes that handicap. While Clinton is so bad at pretending to be champion of the people that even with the support of what's left of organized labour, behind her, she still can't pull it off?
Like I say, this isn't about Hillary. This is about a whole Democratic machine that came off the rails. And it came off the rails because of the ideological turn it took under Bill Clinton and Obama. And that ideological turn is evidenced by their failure to enact policies that shored up the working class in the face of global competition and the 2008 crisis.
Bill Clinton and Obama didn't do their job. And that is why Trump is president.
But it's worse than that. Because Trump is about to win AGAIN.
Despite .... EVERYTHING.
[Ed - Obviously, this didn't happen. My hyperbolic prediction here was wrong. But not by so much. Trump still got more votes than first time around. His fanatical supporters still believe he didn't really lose, was just robbed by a deep-state conspiracy. And his faction is still looking like a plausible threat to come back in the next election.]
He is going to win the election in November because the Democrats still can't bring themselves to be the party that helps the working class claw back some of the wealth from the insanely super-wealthy. Even though the inequality numbers are crazy. The concentration of wealth is as extreme as its ever been in American history. But the Democrats won't do the one thing that could actually restore their credibility with the working class : bring the money back to it.
Let's put it another way.
Every time the Democrats deny that politics is really "class war", they help to reinforce the far-right narrative that politics is really "culture war".
And once you accept that it's culture war, in a country where white Christians are still by far the largest section of the population, then the party which is best able to claim to be the party of white Christians is going to win.
Culture war is a battle that the right-wing fascist are going to win.
Because they will appeal to the people's tribal instincts to stick to their own and fear the other.
Culture war belongs to the fascists.
The only way to avoid that is to recognise, and get others to recognise, that the true battle is class war : the fight over who will get the benefit of the productivity in the economy.
The good news is that if you do recognise that, then you have at least a chance of winning. Because the working-class and poor are the majority. And if you offer them something concrete they have a reason to vote for you.
But keep parroting neoliberal platitudes. Keep refusing to do anything for the working class (Biden and Pelosi have loudly ruled out Medicare for All, in COVID year!) Insist that somehow Democrats deserve to win just because they're "better people", then, frankly, the Democrats are heading for an embarrassing second fail. Which is an entirely avoidable tragedy.
Quora Answer : Why, after the 2016 election, is it easier for progressive populists to communicate with conservative populists than with centrist liberals?
I'm not sure it always is. Or that you can say that there's a hard and fast rule.
But to the extent it is, it's because they acknowledge the same problems with the liberal centre establishment that the liberal centrists have yet to recognise or admit.
The economies in the US and Europe have been sucking money and wealth away from the working and middle class for 40 years. The "third-way" liberal centre that had embraced the neo-liberalism of Thatcher and Reagan didn't really have an answer to that problem.
Even when it could acknowledge it, the best it could come up with was "let's invest more in education to make our workers competitive". But as they refused to finance the expansion in education needed out of general taxation, the working and middle class were expected to fund their own increased education. Out of their own shrinking budget. Basically the "Red Queen" theory of economic improvement : run faster just to stay in the same place.
"Populist" is just the label we're giving to those who were willing to at least acknowledge that this was a problem for the people.
Now the populists of left and right certainly don't agree on much more than that. And their proposed solutions are radically different. But at least if you agree that there is a problem you can have a dialogue about what causes it and how to solve it. Until the liberal centre acknowledge the problem, they can't join that dialogue.