Groucho Marx used the tell the story of a Hollywood softball game he played in as a young man with Will Rogers. The game was played without real bases, using rocks instead. Rogers hit a double but wasn’t sure where second base was. Groucho tagged him claiming he wasn’t on second. Rogers replied, “Groucho, at my age wherever I’m standing is second base.”
Today’s column by Michael Gerson reminds me of that quip. Gerson argues that in the current election campaign both parties are fleeing the center. He maintains that both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush ran successfully by stressing their differences with certain of their respective party’s orthodoxies and thereby reaching out to centrists. But, according to Gerson, the leading candidates for president this time are not following suit.
Gerson is correct about Clinton and Bush, and his piece serves as a useful reminder to the “memory-impaired” that Bush has never been a pure conservative. But I think Gerson is wrong when he claims that in this cycle no major candidate is reaching towards the middle, and that all of them are simply drifing with the hard-line current of their party.
This may be true on the Democratic side, but it’s hardly true of Giuliani and McCain. Giuliani is running unapologetically against Republican party orthodoxy on several key social issues, most notably abortion. McCain continues to be a maverick when it comes to immigration, campaign finance reform, and terrorist rights. Both have clear centrist tendencies. They may be different from the ones Bush and Gerson consider virtuous, but Bush and Gerson don’t get to dictate the location of second base.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill