On a near daily basis, while following blogs, newspapers, or television and radio broadcasts, I hear strategists, journalists, and would-be candidates droning about the political “center” or the greatness of being an ideological “moderate”.
The latest example comes from Postman on Politics
, where the Seattle Times’ chief political reporter quotes Senator Rodney Tom of the 48th District on his newfound aspirations for higher office:
Tom was quick to say he likes Burner.
He wouldn't say anything about conversations they've had about the possibility he would run against her.
"We did talk. I guess I'd rather keep that private. I have a high regard for Darcy. Again, I keep coming back to, 'Who can best win the 8th?'
"The 8th is a moderate district and if there's a strong moderate out there, it's me. I think I share their values and I think I fit this district really well. The thing you have to remember is the 8th isn't about just winning in '08. But you have to have someone who can stay around in the long run and I think I can fit that profile."
The 8th is not a moderate district. Rodney Tom is not a moderate, let alone a “strong moderate”. We at NPI know this because there is no such thing as a moderate. It’s a myth - one of the myths of the center.
To explain, let me first debunk a related myth of the center - the linear myth, which imagines that all citizens are lined up left to right, with the extremists on the end and the “moderates” in the middle. By moving “away from the left”, “towards the center”, one becomes more “moderate”.
Too many people actually believe this is a great strategy. It’s not a strategy at all, it’s a sign of weakness. “Moving to the right” means becoming inauthentic, betraying your values and your base.
There is no definable “moderate” worldview or ideology. There is no consistency to what so-called “moderates” believe. What American holds a political perspective where all possible issues are points on linear scales – and their position is perfectly balanced in the middle on all the scales? I have not met anyone who does.
Can you have a “moderate” position on an issue - like oil drilling in the Arctic? If you’re for limited (or, “moderate”) drilling, you’re still for drilling. Similarly, you can believe that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare”, but you’re still for it being legal as opposed to it being outlawed.
If “moderates” as a group do not exist, what about a political mainstream? That’s also a myth. According to polling (which we’re not big fans of), there is supposed to be a real center of public opinion. But polling uses statistics and averages.
There are very few, if any, people out there whose political views correspond to what the polling says most of us believe. This is because there is no “”moderate” ideology connecting each specific issue position.
As George Lakoff and the Rockridge Institute note in Thinking Points
(a huge inspiration for this post, which I have borrowed phrasing from), it’s like trying to find a family with 2.3 kids. Such a family does not exist.
So if there’s no such thing as a “moderate”, no “mainstream”, and no political “center”, then what about voters, or Americans, who are clearly not either progressive/liberal or conservative?
The answer is simple: they are biconceptuals, or people who use one moral system in one area and the other moral system in another area of their political thinking. The 8th District could, in fact, be accurately described as a biconceptual district...and Rodney Tom as a biconceptual.
But every single congressional district in America is biconceptual, because no district is inhabited exclusively by progressive or conservative Americans.
It is, of course, true that some districts have more biconceptuals residing in them than others do. If we redefine the word “center” to mean different types of biconceptuals, then there could be a “center”.
But it is very complex. It is not an ideology, but rather, a diverse group of people. It includes partial progressives, partial conservatives, and undecideds (biconceptuals in nonpolitical areas of life but with no fixed moral views governing their politics). “Independents” could be described as belonging to any of the just mentioned subgroups, which are themselves loose, complex, and diverse.
What Rodney Tom means to say is that voters are more likely to support him because he is a partial progressive - and we don't agree. He sets up a contrast between himself and Darcy Burner, who is an authentic and pragmatic progressive.
(Darcy knows we can’t get everything we think is good for America, but we can get much or most of it through negotiation, sticking to our values without being stubborn and uncompromising. Thus she is both authentic and pragmatic).
Darcy ran a very strong campaign last cycle and came very, very close to winning. Only a massive deluge of Republican money (spent on ads, phone calls, and get out the vote efforts) saved Dave Reichert from extinction. It can be argued the GOP put more into the 8th than any other district in the country.
Reichert himself spent every last penny. He began the year 2007 still in debt, as a matter of fact, while Darcy’s campaign emerged in the black.
The 8th congressional district has voted for Al Gore, John Kerry, Patty Murray, and Maria Cantwell. We believe that after just getting to know Darcy in 2006, the district is now ready to elect her in 2008.
In a follow up entry to his report about Tom’s interest in running for the 8th, David Postman provided excerpts of his conversation with Darcy
, a conversation that she has also been having with activists all over the region:
At every door we went to, Henry and I were greeted with enthusiasm, and every person we talked to immediately recognized me. Every person we met was eager to talk about the direction they think we should be taking this country.
And at every house, I listened as people clearly deeply affected told me that we needed to end the Iraq war and bring our troops home.
Darcy’s advantages are significant. She has excellent name ID. Her fundraising prowess is unquestionable. Her grassroots and netroots support is rock solid. She is a hard worker, willing to put in the effort it takes to win.
She believes, as we do, that politics is a team sport, and she is a team player, not an opportunist looking to advance her career.
And of course, she is a wonderful person – intelligent, caring, good humored, well intentioned. When she asked me for time to have a conversation in August of 2005, there’s a reason it t took only a few minutes for me to be convinced that I should support her candidacy.
Darcy appeals to all the district’s progressives – again, witness the strong grassroots and netroots support - but she also connects with its biconceptuals.
This makes her a very strong candidate and the ideal choice for the Democratic nomination. Her campaign has, is, and will be concerned with activating progressive values in biconceptual voters – future constituents who share our moral system, but more passively. This is what conservatives do.
They do not surrender their values at all, and yet they win. Voters like a politician who is authentic and honest, willing to negotiate but not lacking integrity.
(It should be noted, however, that many conservatives who ran for office on authenticity betrayed their values when they reached our nation's capitol. There are plenty of examples. DeLay. Ney. Foley. "Duke" Cunningham.)
Rodney Tom is a biconceptual who only decided recently that his values are closer to those shared and held by Democrats, most of whom are also progressives. He became a Democrat and subsequently left his House seat to run for state Senate - a candidacy that NPI supported.
He won, just last fall, and now he represents the 48th as its senator. He owes it to his constituents to continue working hard in Olympia to improve our public schools, transportation infrastructure, and healthcare system, among other issues.
That’s what he should focus on, instead of aspirations for higher office.
As for Representative Chris Hurst, the other Democrat rumored to be mulling a possible run – he would be extraordinarily wise to decide against it.
Hurst, who was the prime sponsor of an unsuccessful bill last session to foolishly reenact Tim Eyman’s Initiative 747, is neither a true progressive nor a strategic thinker (if he was, he wouldn’t have worked so hard to give Tim Eyman and the right wing a free victory). Hurst will not be able to piece together the kind of campaign that Darcy has (and Tom won’t be able to either, for that matter).
The 8th, which has never been represented by a progressive Democrat, is ready to send one to Congress. It's turning blue, but it can't be taken for granted. It will only be won by a Democrat with candor, trust, and faith in progressive values. That candidate is Darcy Burner.