The Centrist Manifesto

A vision—and detailed road map to power—for a new party that will champion America’s rational center.

From debt ceiling standoffs to single-digit Congress approval ratings, America’s political system has never been more polarized—or paralyzed—than it is today. As best-selling author and public policy expert Charles Wheelan writes, now is the time for a pragmatic Centrist party that will identify and embrace the best Democratic and Republican ideals, moving us forward on the most urgent issues for our nation.

Wheelan—who not only lectures on public policy but practices it as well (he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2009)—brings even more than his usual wit and clarity of vision to The Centrist Manifesto. He outlines a realistic ground game that could net at least five Centrist senators from New England, the Midwest, and elsewhere. With the power to deny a red or blue Senate majority, committed Centrists could take the first step toward giving voice and power to America’s largest, and most rational, voting bloc: the center.

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From Kirkus Reviews

A pragmatic argument about moving politics away from polarities and toward the moderate middle, where the author feels most voters find themselves and most solutions can be negotiated.

The word “manifesto” typically generates more passion, but it’s hard to rouse excitement when espousing a shift toward the center. Yet it’s central to the argument by Wheelan (Public Policy/Dartmouth Coll.; Naked Statistics, 2013, etc.) that rabble-rousing emotionalism is part of the problem in American politics, where candidates in both parties feel that they must throw red meat to the extremists who are more involved in the nominating process than they are reflective of the citizenry at large. Contrary to analyses that see the country as increasingly polarized, the author suggests that most Americans are far more moderate and that they can find agreement on plenty of issues where two-party politics continues to find stalemate or gridlock. “The challenges we have to deal with as a nation are entirely manageable,” he writes. “The key is to mobilize America’s inner pragmatism.” The strategy focuses on the Senate, where a handful of centrist legislators from swing states or a tradition of electing representatives from both parties could become power brokers, essential to the sort of compromise that reflects most Americans. Though third-party candidates haven’t typically fared well, Wheelan argues that the difference here is that the centrists will come from the common-sense middle rather than the radical fringes. Leftists will have trouble swallowing his antipathy toward unions, while conservatives will find his positions on the environment and gay marriage suspect. But as he works his way through flash-point issues to consensus on abortion and guns, he strives for a rationality that all but ideologues can embrace.

It’s a sign of the times that this sensible plea for moderation can seem so radical.

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