Atruism of American politics is that a successful strategy for securing the nomination of one of the two major parties may be to excite the activists by veering to an ideological extreme, but that it takes a centrist to win general elections.
That last part was the message last week of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who is a presidential candidate and — by the way — himself a centrist. There may thus have been a self-serving element in his attack on Howard Dean, Richard Gephardt, John Kerry and other rivals who have taken a non-centrist turn in their campaigns.
But those who suppose there’s no objective history to his analysis are forgetting the doomed candidacies of Barry Goldwater on the right and George McGovern on the left. They are assuming the majority of Americans do not wish to quell such security threats as Iraq or are now ready to embrace such semi-socialist enthusiasms as Gephardt’s plan to empty everyone’s pockets for the financing of universal health insurance.
The parties have their differences and should have their differences, but it is also the genius of American politics that the differences, while important, are more marginal than fundamental. At the end of the day, power usually goes to those who stand for common sense and traditional political values such as keeping ours a land of liberty and opportunity and of protecting ourselves through means proportionate to the danger.
Not a few observers have written that the Democrats are in disarray. Republicans should contain their glee. There’s a distance to go between now and November 2004, and the Democratic message by then could well be one more to the liking of Lieberman, even if the candidate is someone else, someone who now seems headed toward the fringe.
The Democrat who gets the nomination may have come back to core beliefs, pushed to principle by the calculation that President Bush is vulnerable on many fronts when the attack comes from the middle, but less so when it comes from the far left. What would a leftist say about the administration’s unpardonable spending record?
An issue for Democrats is whether giving the nomination to someone who is ideologically fervent is worth the risks that entails for the general election. It is a matter of concern as well to those citizens whose allegiance to having a reasonable choice in 2004 is much greater than allegiance to either political