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Pro-Worker, Pro-Family, Pro-America
The new center in American politics is economically nationalist and culturally moderate
What does “centrism” mean in modern politics?
The most common usage of the term comes out of the intra-Democratic debates of the 1980s and 1990s when “New Democrats” sought to redefine the party’s ideology away from its big-spending, statist solutions of the past and toward greater acceptance of market economies, private-public partnerships, deregulation, and deficit reduction. Moderate-to-conservative stands on culture war debates—mainly over guns, crime, and religion—were also prominent components of the centrist, New Democratic model. Foreign policy in the centrist mode promoted globalization, a strong defense posture, and humanitarian interventions in places like Bosnia and Kosovo.
Conceived as a middle path between FDR’s New Deal and Reagan-Thatcher conservatism, the New Democratic moment culminated with the Clinton presidency—and Third Way politics in the U.K. and Europe—which produced NAFTA, “the era of big government is over”, and a booming national economy that led to federal budget surpluses. Third Way-style centrism later found a home in support of Bush-era “war on terror” national security policies, and then slowly diminished during the Obama years after a series of self-admitted economic failures contributed to the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 and rising inequality in society.
Today, the term “centrism” mostly lacks coherent ideological content and more often reflects a style of politics associated with moderate House and Senate Democrats running in politically conservative areas who oppose the democratic socialism and cultural leftism of Bernie Sanders and the Squad, while denouncing extreme social positions on things like “defunding the police” and decriminalizing border crossings. Rather than serving as a cogent intellectual model for policy and politics, “centrist” today is mostly an individual branding label that sets some members apart from others without really offering an affirmative set of values or positions for people to join up with and advance collectively.
As the progressive side of the Democratic coalition has gained strength and numbers in recent years—and mainstream Republicanism has all but disappeared with Trump’s takeover of the party—it’s worth asking: “Does centrism really matter anymore?”
At The Liberal Patriot, we think centrism does still matter in a country as politically and socially diverse as the United States. But it’s time to retire the old understanding of the term and to define a new center in American politics—one that is economically nationalist and culturally moderate. A center that represents and stands up for universal values, American interests, and the well-being of all people in all parts of the country.
The country needs a “pro-worker, pro-family, pro-America” centrist movement that can appeal to voters who are increasingly disenchanted with the culturally extreme politics of the left and right, and who instead favor building up America’s domestic economy, strengthening America’s families, and promoting America’s interests in the global sphere and in competition with nations like China and Russia.
A new center would place America’s workers and their families at the forefront of public consideration. A country is only as good as the strength and stability of its people. So all Americans need solid jobs with good wages or salaries—and adequate health, retirement, and leave benefits—to be financially secure and in a position to enjoy their lives and raise their children without constant stress and worry about money or safety.
Creating well-paid jobs for workers first requires successful and growing businesses, both small and large. Although private employers and investors drive most of this action, the government plays a vital role in spearheading investments into the sources and sectors of good jobs in fields such as health care, education, technology, infrastructure, and clean energy, along with financing for scientific research and development that can fuel future economic innovation.
Economic growth is essential to a pro-worker and pro-family centrist movement. Without growth, the country lacks the resources and economic opportunities necessary to pay workers more and fund important social welfare policies to help fight poverty, prop up low-wage employment, and extend health care and education to all people. Economic growth also drives wealth-building and family security through expanded access to homeownership and investments that fund college educations for young people and retirements for older ones. A strong, democratic voice for workers and their families, through unions or other organizations, is also essential for making sure the nation’s economic wealth is shared fairly with the workers who help produce and consume our national output.
Likewise, America’s foreign policies need to back up and advance our pro-worker, pro-family domestic policies. Here again the government plays a critical role by protecting jobs for American workers, making investments in domestic manufacturing and technology to bolster our position versus China, and brokering better deals with trading partners so we can send goods and services to them—and they can send theirs to us in return—in a fair and mutually beneficial manner.
If we want to build this common focus on national economic development to strengthen America’s workers and families, our politics must stop focusing on interminable, annoying, and unresolvable cultural battles between people. Americans are a truly diverse lot—in background, outlook, and values—and we do best when we respect these differences and let people live their lives the way they want without being told what to think, what to say, or how to structure their private lives.
A new centrism therefore needs to be universal in outlook, with a commitment to equal dignity and rights for all people, and pluralist in practice by protecting individual rights, free speech, and divergent values across different communities.
America’s two-party system and ideologically sorted politics has left huge swaths of the country unrepresented and increasingly frustrated with our democratic discourse.
Rather than pretending these voters don’t exist or don’t matter, liberal patriots need to define and mobilize a new “pro-worker, pro-family, pro-America” centrist movement to help take back our country from the ongoing forces of sectarian division and domestic neglect.