Hankook Ilbo, South Korea
No Room for Centrism
in American Politics
By Tae-Gyu Lee
Translated By Jiyoung Han
9 April 2012
Edited by Janie Boschma
South Korea - Hankook Ilbo - Original Article (Korean)
We can see just how small a place centrism holds in American politics by looking at former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Having jumped into the Republican primary at the earliest stages, Romney has now all but secured the GOP presidential nomination. Without Romney, the GOP would be hard pressed to come up with a presidential candidate to go against the Democratic candidate and incumbent President Barack Obama. Political analyst Nate Silver pointed out that American news coverage of the GOP elections dropped from 83 to 23 percent after the Michigan and Arizona primaries on Feb. 28, asserting that Romney had already won the nomination at that point.
But the election that should have ended drags on. Former Sen. Rick Santorum and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, in particular, are not letting Romney go easily. These two have declared their intentions to run until the Republican National Convention at the end of August, justifying their extended runs on the grounds that Romney possesses “centrist tendencies.”
Gingrich claims that he will continue to run so as to prevent centrism from overtaking Republican conservative ideology. Santorum likewise has said he does not trust the “moderate” Romney, thus winning the support of more firmly conservative voters.
As these men point out, Romney’s centrist tendencies are so strong that one could even say there are many issues on which he and Obama do not significantly differ. For example, one of Romney’s campaign staffers has claimed that, should the candidate win the election, his foreign policy via-à-vis the Korean peninsula would not diverge greatly from that of the Obama administration. Some even say that the only distinctions between the two are the ability to hum tunes by soul music singer Al Green and to memorize the lyrics of the national anthem. A little over 20 percent of American voters are progressive and a little over 30 percent are conservative, while moderates make up well over 40 percent of voters. It would thus seem to be an advantage to stand in the moderate zone. As such, there is nothing but irony in the fact that Romney’s centrist tendencies have hindered his attempts to win the unified support of his own party.
Above all else, it is largely the fault of the GOP that fewer centrist or moderate positions are viable today. In the past, there were usually influential politicians that commanded respect in one or both parties, playing bridging roles to resolve conflicts. However, as hardliners gained ground in U.S. politics, the majority of figures who could wield influence from the center have disappeared. It is much like the situation in Korea where the Democrat candidate from Yeongnam and the Saenuri candidate from Honam were almost barred from entering the National Assembly.
The voices of the GOP’s older conservatives and moderates are being drowned out by the neo-conservatives and the Christian right, who assert the primacy of moral values and reconstruction of American legitimacy. The more fundamentalist side of the GOP has thus been increasingly visible. Romney is being swayed by these firm conservative values, pulling a 180 and leaving the moderate zone. In terms of foreign policy, Romney has come to call Russia America’s number one enemy, while urging tough countermeasures against a China that is ostensibly “eating our economic lunch.”
However, even when party stances change, progressives and conservatives seem to preserve their opposition to one another. The tax reduction once approved by the majority of Democrats was supported by the Republicans until 2009, when they turned against the measure. Republicans approved welfare payments to America’s poorest for eight years before Democrats took majority power, after which the GOP turned its stance yet again. Currently it is the Democratic Party that criticizes filibusters and calls for Senate reform, while until four years ago, it was the Republicans that cried out in indignation. Ideological standards are now such that, if a measure is supported by the Democrats, it is seen as progressive, and if supported by the Republicans, it is seen as conservative.
Prominent columnist Ezra Klein has claimed that his biggest frustration with the American media is allowing the two major parties to decide on their own whims what is considered “left” and “right.” This is because, to American politicians, support and opposition are sometimes a matter of convenience rather than a matter of right or wrong.
CLICK HERE FOR