President Obama’s failure to fully achieve the liberal agenda and remain popular in the process is fueling dangerous radicalization in the oddest of places: the media establishment, which considers itself the guardian of the political center.
I should say “the so-called center,” because one of those most tedious — yet meticulously maintained — fictions is the claim that the establishment is, in fact, “centrist.”
If you’ve ever met these people and talked to them about how they see the world, heard them give a college commencement address, read their books, or endeavored to find out the political views of their spouses, you’d have all the evidence you need to learn that the establishment’s centrist facade is so much Potemkin poster board.
For example, remember the media obsession with the cockeyed fantasy that Obama was the next FDR? Go back and watch some of those late-2008 and early-2009 episodes of Meet the Press. The guests were so giddy about the prospect they looked like six-year-olds at a birthday party ordered to sit still while the clown got ready to make balloon animals.
But Obama is not an FDR, nor a Lincoln, nor a liberal Reagan. At this point he’s simply hoping not to be a Carter. And that’s fomented establishment despair. Tina Brown, editor of both the Daily Beast and Newsweek, recently let it slip on MSNBC (a trifecta of establishmentarian liberal media outlets!) that she thinks Obama “wasn’t ready” for the job in 2008.
The establishment can’t bring itself to blame liberalism (or themselves). So instead they blame the system. Obama’s own reelection theme of running against “Washington” — a town he had near total control over for two years and in which he is still the most powerful figure — is a variant of the same argument. Obama can’t blame the party he leads, so he blames the “system.”
That idea — that the system itself is to blame — has now gone viral.
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who’s been pushing and predicting a “geo-green third party” since 2006, is convinced there will be something like that in 2012. Why? Because his gut tells him so.
Friedman’s gut is a terrifying thing. During the fight over “Obamacare,” he didn’t just think the political system “sucks” (to borrow Democratic wise man Tony Podesta’s term), he found it demonstrably inferior to China’s authoritarian regime.
Just last week, Bev Purdue, Democratic governor of North Carolina, declared, “I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won’t hold it against them, whatever decisions they make.” She now says she was joking, an interpretation hard to square with the audio recording.
Similarly, former Obama aide Peter Orszag (now of Citibank, of course) also pinpoints democracy as the real problem. In the latest issue of The New Republic, he proposes that we empower more “depoliticized commissions” to make the important decisions.
Friedman likes “depoliticized commissions” too, such as the Chinese politburo. That’s why he’s written how he wishes we could be just like “China for a day,” so we could simply impose all the policies he likes.
At least Matt Miller, an avowed radical centrist, doesn’t want to scrap democracy. He just wants to scrap the two-party system. Now, this isn’t undemocratic. It’s not even necessarily a terrible idea (though I don’t endorse it).
But what’s interesting about Miller’s argument is how un-centrist it is. Writing for the Washington Post, Miller explains how he wants a new third party that will reject “the Democrats’ timid half-measures and the Republicans’ mindless anti-government creed.”
The new centrism: No more half-measures, just full-blown liberalism.
As you go through Miller’s platform, you can tell he’s serious. He wants to spend vastly more money over “a couple years” to “fix the economy.” Ever more taxpayer dollars will be poured into infrastructure, make-work service jobs and education. Once unemployment is lower, he wants to tax “dirty energy” and impose trade tariffs.
That’s pretty much Friedman’s ideal agenda too.
Come to think of it, it’s also Barack Obama’s! Perhaps not in every particular, but as several left-wing bloggers have noted, Miller’s third party sounds an awful lot like the Democratic party with a new coat of paint.
This is a fascinating departure from the usual pabulum from centrists who insist that they are neither right nor left. This is nothing less than a desperate abandonment of Obama and the Democratic party in order to preserve the credibility of the ideas driving Obama and the Democratic party.
There are few things more pathetic than rats deserting a sinking ship while claiming they’re a superior breed of rat.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him in care of this newspaper or by e-mail at JonahsColumn@aol.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO.