Over four decades of polemical writing, I have discussed
many subjects. Much of my writing has been about
politics here and abroad, reflecting a lifelong interest in
how my country and other countries conduct their public
A certain fundamental idea has remained with me
throughout this considerable time.
That notion is that the American republic, almost 250
years old, was created to govern itself from a public
“center” that inherently resists extremism of any kind.
In a small city-states such as ancient Athens or Rome
or medieval Venice such a center was understandably
possible, albeit ultimately they were overcome by
monarchies, dictatorships, and other undemocratic
From 1776 to 1789, our republic was fashioned with a
relatively small population, and no true contemporary
precedent, by those who held quite different public views
among themselves. Their collective historic genius was
their common revulsion to tyranny and their shared
ambition to establish a lasting and evolutionary federal
Their initial constitution was an extraordinary but
imperfect document that was designed to be revised
and improved over time. In their deliberations, these
founders, individually limited by personal views and
biases, faced a revolutionary circumstance. This was
not the mere overthrow of a king, nor separation from
an occupying power --- that had been done before. Instead
it was a new circumstance, that is, creating a modern free
society. There were founders on the left and on the right.
Many were slaveowners; some were abolitionists. They
initially gave the right to vote only to some white male
landowners. Some were still monarchists, and wanted
a new king, not a president. They had various religions.
In order to complete their work, these founders had to
achieve an unprecedented agreement, and in order to
agree, they had to find central points of compromise.
From its genesis as a sovereign nation, the United States
has been governed primarily from its contemporary
What does that mean?
It means that the U.S. electorate and its perceived public
opinion are majoritarian in nature. The political center
is where the majority of voters are. Like the north and
south magnetic poles, the center is always moving. It is
not the”middle.” Centrists are not necessarily moderates,
although centrism is a moderating force, naturally
employing negotiation and compromise.
At various times, the political center is overshadowed by
partisanship on the left and the right. The center is still
there, but it becomes temporarily silent in the din made
by the voices on either side of it.
I have noticed recently some commentary that puts down
the center, and asserts that it does not really meaningfully
exist. I think this kind of analysis misunderstands the
current “silence of the center” to be political laryngitis.
The true venue for the political center is the ballot box.
Those on the far right and the far left rely on the media
and partisan communications.
It is the political center that enables the nation to
move beyond stalemate, to pass needed legislation, to
resolve problems. It was the center, the weight of
majority opinion, that ultimately enabled the end of
slavery, the end of child labor, trust-busting, the right to
vote for women, desegregation, civil rights, free market
economics, and most recently, beginning to end “political
correctness.” Early voices for each of these came from
individual leaders and thinkers, but the major political
branches of government adopted them because the
political center demanded them..
When the political center becomes silent, as it has been
recently, divisive stalemate grows. Signs of a
re-emerging political center, including conservatives and
liberals, are beginning to appear in U.S. politics --- both
in the states and in Washington, DC.
Some argue that Donald Trump has had the political
success he has had because he aims to respond to the
political center. Others argue that the Democratic Party
now needs o reclaim the political center if it wants to
At the ballot box is where the center will speak. It will
not be voiceless.
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.