Are political centrists in America without a political home? Do we need a third-party presidential candidate to represent those socially progressive, fiscally austere voters who find our two parties too extreme? There’s no disputing that the Republican Party continues to move rightward at warp speed. Virtually every GOP elected official who’s been in office for more than a couple of years has had to repudiate previously mainstream Republican positions (such as creating a health insurance system with an individual mandate, an idea cooked up by a right-wing think tank) to keep today’s more rabid Republican activists from challenging them in party primaries or caucuses. Such longtime conservative stalwarts as Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Richard Lugar of Indiana could lose their party’s renomination this spring from just such challenges. In this year’s GOP presidential primaries, each of the four candidates has attacked the others only from the right. Logic suggests that every GOP candidate cannot be to the right of every other GOP candidate, but if that’s what this year’s Republican base demands — and it is — then logic be damned: Everyone is running to the right.
No equivalent dynamic exists within the Democratic Party. President Obama’s ostensibly socialistic healthcare reform was modeled closely on Republican-originated and Mitt Romney-activated prototypes. In his negotiations with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) last summer, Obama was willing to slash entitlement programs beneath even the recommendations of the centrist Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction commission. In 2008, Obama and primary rival Hillary Rodham Clinton both attempted to cast themselves as the most moderate.
But the myth exists that the Democrats are as radical as the Republicans, despite data collected by political scientists Paul Pierson and Jacob Hacker showing that congressional Republicans have galloped much further right in recent decades than congressional Democrats have to the left. Nonetheless, some very wealthy Americans, declaring themselves the excluded center, have ponied up for a new proto-party for the mythically missing center. It’s called Americans Elect.
As of the end of 2011, Americans Elect had raised $22 million — chiefly from donations of $100,00 or more that came from just 55 individuals — to gain ballot access for its candidate to be in the 50 states. (It’s already secured that status in California.) We don’t know whom most of those individuals are because Americans Elect claims the status of a social welfare organization, not a party, and as such is not obliged to list its funders. We do know that its website has a “leadership” list of roughly 100 people, and that of the 90 or so who aren’t the organization’s staffers or consultants, 20 are heads or leading executives of hedge funds, private equity firms and major banks. If Americans Elect is spearheading a revolution, it’s a revolution of the 1%.