Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

The Intellectual Collapse of the Center

Jonathan Chait, for New York Magazine, pointing out the irony in David Brooks’s lamentation of the failure of the political center:

If Obama offered a deal to raise taxes through tax reform while reducing entitlements, Brooks would write a sad column about how nobody was willing to raise taxes through tax reform while reducing entitlements. If Obama favored education reform, an infrastructure bank, and more high-skill immigration, Brooks would write a sad column about how nobody favored those things. When Obama supported market-oriented health-care reform, Brooks opposed it as an extravagant government takeover. Then later he wrote a sad column about how “we’d have had a very different debate if we knew the law was going to be a discrete government effort to subsidize health care for more poor people” rather than “an extravagant government grab to take over the nation’s health-care system.”

The effect of all this commentary was not to empower the moderate ideas Brooks favored, but to disempower them. Brooks was emblematic of the way the entire bipartisan centrist industry conducted itself throughout the Obama years. It was neither possible for Obama to co-opt the center, nor for Republicans to abandon it, because official centrists would simply relocate themselves to the midpoint of wherever the parties happened to stand. The well-documented reality that the parties were undergoing asymmetric polarization was one they refused to accept, because their jobs was to be bipartisan, and it is difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends upon not understanding it.

That bit about the “midpoint of wherever the parties happened to stand” really resonated with me. Brooks is far from the only political commentator who has inadvertently found himself dragged rightward by Congressional Republicans’ steadfast opposition to even the most centrist of President Obama’s policies and proposals. However, the lack of awareness Brooks shows here is not promising.