Redefining the center

David Broder is the latest to embrace the “rebirth of the center” interpretation of last Tuesday’s elections. The problem with viewing that election as signaling the rebirth of anything is, of course, the fact that power didn’t change hands — not in Virginia, New Jersey, or New York City. But Broder purports to find centrist significance in California, where various propositions supported by Gov. Schwarzenegger were defeated. Broder writes:

In California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gained high popularity in his first year in office by identifying himself with all of those causes, he came a cropper by forcing a special election on a very different agenda. He launched a crusade to punish teachers, nurses and other public employees for their “greed,” only to see the public endorse their work and tell the governor, in effect, to deal with them, not stiff-arm them. The defeat of all four of Schwarzenegger’s initiatives clearly signals that he misread Californians as wanting a partisan conservative regime in Sacramento.

Broder misses the mark badly. The victory of public-sector unions in California hardly represents a victory for centrism. As John Fund notes, even the liberal Los Angeles Times endorsed Proposition 75, the governor’s union-dues initiative, saying that “when public employee unions wield the type of influence they do now in California, too much governing becomes an exercise in self-dealing.” Fund also quotes Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter, who stated:

Some liberals in California are in danger of becoming Paleolithic liberals who will stick with the interest groups come hell or high water, It’s kind of pathetic on the part of some liberals that they can’t accept a good idea if it’s put forward by a moderate Republican.

Thus, the California results are most plausibly viewed as a defeat for centrism. But even if one accepts Broder’s assertion that Arnold was positioned as a partisan conservative, there’s no way that his opponents can be viewed as centrists.

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