There’s a common GOP talking-point that says that the U.S. is a “center-right nation, after all.” Ezra Klein was correct when he commented that, “It’s a way to explain not only Republican victories and Democratic losses, but also the need for Democrats to be cautious after victories and for Republicans to be ambitious when they take office. It’s a view, in other words, with implications.” But what are the implications of this statement in light of the Akin controversy over “legitimate rape”?
Let’s take the Republicans at their word and accept the premise that the U.S. is center-right? If the country is really centrist in this way, why would the country’s right-wing adopt political and policy positions that are thoroughly extremist? To be more pro-business than pro-government is a center-right position, I suppose, and the GOP leadership has been rewarded handsomely since 1980 for wrapping itself in this position, to the tune of literally billions of dollars. But eliminating taxes for the wealthy entirely is utterly radical. And the financiers of such fiscal radicalism do not seem to support the radical cultural agenda of the Christian phalange. Perhaps Americans for Prosperity will come out with an ad claiming that abortion is murder and supporting trans-vaginal probes, but this would seem at odds with AFP’s core libertarianism. Maybe I’m wrong, but it looks to me that the Koch brothers have only one mission: to eliminate all taxes and all government regulations on their holdings.
Mitt Romney would never admit it, and he probably doesn’t event realize it, but here’s his truth: the GOP cannot win an election on an agenda of fiscal extremism and it cannot win an election on an agenda of cultural extremism. Thus, since Reagan the party has brought together fiscal and cultural extremists in order to forge a broad-based coalition that might win. But since the beliefs of these two blocs are fundamentally different, the coalition has only held together by one side lying to the other side (and vice versa) about what they’re really up to. This is why Romney (and now Ryan) have flip-flopped on so many issues so many times so publicly. Romney is a money guy – that’s the image from which he justifies his ability to be President – so what reason does he have to hate abortion and gay folks? And yet he was compelled to change his position on abortion and gay marriage if he was to have any hope of being a Republican candidate.
The biggest lie is that the GOP must contend that both fiscal and cultural extremism are in fact “right-centrist” in order to attract that small sliver independent voters that actually are center-right. (That is, those centrists who have not already committed to one party or the other.) But confusing extremism with centrism has deleterious effects on civic dialogue. If one feels that extreme views are the norm, then one can only see real centrist positions as extreme. President Obama is a centrist, both culturally and fiscally. In fact his views would place him in the mainstream of the Republican Party… if it were 1972 and not 2012. I bet if you put a Nelson Rockefeller speech next to an Obama speech, they’d be more similar than different. Therefore, according the confused extremists of today’s GOP, Obama must be a radical post-colonial Kenyan Marxist Islamist socialist. Who would ever make a compromise with someone like that?
When lies become truth, then truth becomes a lie. But this logic is not sustainable over the long-term, and this is a frightening prospect, because it is the glue that holds together the Republican coalition. Barring massive human failure, natural catastrophe and/or political corruption, the GOP will lose the presidential election and lose ground in Congress in November. And “center-right” will have nothing to do with it. When their loss gives lie to their extremism, the GOP coalition will splinter. And for the country’s extremely powerful and second-largest political party to crumble could have dire consequences.
The center cannot hold if it is not, in fact, a center.