The Imaginary Center

Via Political Wire, pollster Scott Rasmussen, annoyed at his post-2004 election irrelevance, has created the Hillary Meter, an enormously useless waste of webspace tracking, twice monthly, how close to the political center Americans think Hillary is.

The obsession with centrism is, to me, the single most puzzling thing about presidential politics. It's as if the strategists and pollsters and commentators all sat down over Scrabble one night, decided the work they did was too hard, and unanimously agreed that, from then on, the middle would be the ideal and everybody could simply work off that. Then the pollsters would know what to poll, the strategists would know what to strategize, the commentators could pen their critiques, and everyone could hit the bars by seven. They did all this in a century where none of the great and effective leaders were middle-of-the-road kinda men. FDR, Kennedy, Johnson (got an enormous amount done), Reagan -- there was no obsession with moderation directing their compasses, and had there been, they'd be consigned to dust-gathering biographies in particularly well-stocked libraries, not still injecting themselves into political discussions.

Whether Hillary hits dead middle is far less important than whether she connects with the American people. Because, surprise surprise, the nation doesn't quite rest in the magic center either. They like class warfare, soaking the rich, government-run health care, preserving the environment, and participating in all manner of international treaties. Of course, Hillary's move to the center will be judged on how well she rejects these American priorities -- how quickly she gives up the ideal of universal health care, how blithe her dismissal of international treaties is, how much she protests against a progressive tax code.

But then it's not the American middle she'll be moving to, instead, she'll by traveling to a hypothetical center that exists only in the heads of the commentariat. And to get the secret key that opens up the hidden door to that electoral treasure room, she'll have to gut punch what she believes in, deny good policy, and show herself willing to bleed her supporters. Being judged viable in politics has the distinct oder of a frat hazing, where not only do you have to demean yourself, but for entry, they love it if you offend and even cause pain to your former friends. And so, If Hillary were smart, she'd take her husband's advice, not Scott Rasmussen's.

Strength and certainty will do her much more good than meaningless, muddled moderation. Her current attempts to frame her positions in massively appealing and concrete terms are exactly right, so much so that they've even sent her marching towards the center in Scott's polls without changing her positions a bit. Because, in the end. the American people judge the center to be where they are, and so long as they like what's being said, they'll drag the middle over to is. Hillary should just keep on keepin' on, no matter which direction these meaningless polls point in.

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