The Progressive Fix

Jon Stewart, Michael Bloomberg, and the Resurgent Center

Over the last few days, I’ve become cautiously optimistic about the future of the political center. Something seems to be happening. Maybe it was Christine O’Donnell’s surprise Tea Party victory over moderate Michael Castle in the Delaware primary, but it feels like maybe, just maybe, the dormant defenders of moderation and reason are being roused from their slumber.

In particular, I’m encouraged by three developments: Jon Stewart’s decision to hold a “Rally to Restore Sanity” on the National Mall on October 30, Michael Bloomberg’s decision to be very public about his widespread support of centrist candidates, and the fact that independents are really starting to turn against the Tea Party.

First Stewart’s decision to hold a rally: “We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat,” advertises the website advertising the rally, “who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler.” (I was impressed that Stewart’s announcement went after both Tea Partiers and 9-11 Truthers, attacking extremism on both sides)

Such a rally at first seems like an unusually public move for somebody who has made a career out of skewering from the sidelines. But could it be that Stewart looked around, realized that he was one of the few partisans for reason and moderation left with a large and enthusiastic following, and felt a sudden pang of responsibility?

Perhaps Stewart actually can give voice to a many Americans who share the Daily Show’s conceit that our current politics is fundamentally fodder for satire. But if comedy is tragedy plus distance, perhaps the increasing tragedy of American politics is making it feel less distant. Is the Tea Party as funny when it forms a meaningful voting block in the U.S. Senate?

Then there is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to speak to the New York Times (his first newspaper interview in several years) in order to grab the lead story in the Sunday paper to highlight his systematic attempt to back moderates – raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for candidates that hew to a moderate vision of politics.

Bloomberg’s decision to make a public show of his plans may partly be an attempt to raise his profile as the leader of the radical center. But it also an encouraging development: a public signal that the political center is worth defending and supporting, and perhaps, just as Jon Stewart’s rally might be a clarion call to previously apathetic moderate voters, perhaps Bloomberg’s decision will be a similar call to disengaged moderate donors who are equally concerned about the increasingly extreme ways in which the current electoral season is shaping up.

The final encouraging development the latest CBS/ New York Times poll, in which the Tea Party’s unfavorable rating has risen from 18 percent in April to 25 percent (compared to 20 percent favorable, 18 percent undecided, and 36 percent saying they haven’t heard enough). Moreover, independent voters now have a more negative view of the party (30 percent unfavorable, to 18 percent favorable). These are small changes, admittedly, but they are in the right direction, and hopeful portents of a steady waking up to just how crazy the tea party is becoming.

Hopefully this confluence of factors – Jon Stewart’s empowering cheerleading of moderation, Michael Bloomberg’s aggressive financing of moderates, and sinking public support for the tea parties – are legitimate reasons to be optimistic that the center might indeed hold, and maybe even start to feel vital again.

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