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Debunking 'Centrism' | The Nation

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Debunking 'Centrism'

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On healthcare, we are led to believe that it is a "liberal," "left" or "socialist" position to support a single-payer system that would provide universal coverage to all Americans. But if you believe the Washington Post, that would mean America was some sort of hippie commune. The newspaper's 2003 national poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans say they prefer a universal healthcare system "that's run by the government and financed by taxpayers" as opposed to the current private, for-profit system.

Correction: Simon Rosenberg, described here as having been a "free-trade lobbyist," has been a politically active advocate for free trade but not a professional registered lobbyist.

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David Sirota
David Sirota is a journalist, nationally syndicated weekly newspaper columnist, and radio host. His weekly column is...

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Same thing with prescription drugs. DLCers like Senators John Breaux and Evan Bayh, who both pocket thousands from the pharmaceutical industry, have vehemently opposed bipartisan legislation allowing Americans to import lower-priced, FDA-approved medicines from Canada. But polls consistently show overwhelming support for the proposal. A March 2004 AP poll, for instance, showed that two-thirds of Americans favor making it "easier for people to buy prescription drugs from Canada or other countries at lower cost." The measure is so popular among average Americans that even some ardent Republicans like Senator Trent Lott have been embarrassed into supporting it. But apparently the same can't be said for some corporate factions of the Democratic Party.

On energy policy, those who want government to mandate higher fuel efficiency in cars are labeled "lefties," even though a 2004 Consumers Union poll found that 81 percent of Americans support the policy. Corporate apologists claim this "extremist" policy would hurt Democrats in places like Michigan, where the automobile manufacturers employ thousands. But the Sierra Club's 2004 polling finds more than three-quarters of Michigan voters support it--including 84 percent of the state's autoworkers.

Even in the face of massive job loss and outsourcing, the media are still labeling corporate Democrats' support for free trade as "centrist." And the DLC, which led the fight for NAFTA and the China trade deal, attacks those who want to renegotiate those pacts as just a marginal group of "protectionists." Yet a January 2004 PIPA/University of Maryland poll found that "a majority [of the American public] is critical of US government trade policy." A 1999 poll done on the five-year anniversary of the North American trade deal was even more telling: Only 24 percent of Americans said they wanted to "continue the NAFTA agreement." The public outrage at trade deals has been so severe, pollster Steve Kull noted, that support dropped even among upper-income Americans "who've most avidly supported trade and globalization [and] who've taken the lead in pushing the free-trade agenda forward."

Despite this overwhelming evidence, Washington, DC, Democrats apparently have not gotten the message that their current definition of "centrism" is actually pulling the party further and further out of the mainstream. Instead, insiders are doing their best ostrich imitation: putting their heads in the sand, pretending nothing is wrong and continuing down the same path that sells out America's working class--the demographic that used to be the party's base.

For instance, the DLC has issued a "heartland strategy," telling Democrats to jettison economic populism, which has been used to elect Democrats in various red regions in America. Their solution? "Talk more about reducing teen pregnancy and out-of-wedlock births, which have led to an expansion of single-parent families beset by poverty, welfare dependence, and other social ills." Above all else, they caution, do not turn up "the volume on anti-business and class warfare themes"--a euphemism for not discussing DLC-backed free-trade policies that have ravaged economies throughout the heartland. The strategy conveniently avoids the issues that might make the DLC's corporate backers uncomfortable.

Now an effort is under way to set this faux "centrism" in stone. One of the leading candidates for Democratic National Committee chairman is Simon Rosenberg, a former free-trade lobbyist and head of the business-backed New Democrat Network. His group is joined by even more organizations designed to push the party to the right. The Washington Post reports that a group calling itself the "Third Way" (read: "Wrong Way") is forming to tout "centrist" policies for Democrats. Instead of leaving the Beltway and holding a town meeting to gauge the pulse of red America's working-class core, the group held its initial meeting "over dinner at a Georgetown mansion." Instead of engaging in grassroots funding efforts, it is openly relying on corporate contributions.

"The answer to the ideological extremes of the right has to be more than rigid dogma from the left," said Senator Bayh, a leader of the new group and one of Washington's most highly trumpeted "centrists." But really, who is pushing a rigid dogma: these bankrolled politicians who have hijacked "centrism" to sell out America's middle class, or the progressive populists who most often have the backing of the American people?

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