It’s Literally Not Possible For The Center To Hold

One of the signature aspects of our contemporary politics is the mix of intense elite polarization with an electorate that continues to think of itself as very robustly moderately. This is driven, I think, largely by the fact that elites tends to be better-informed about politics and the fact that the status quo is genuinely unsustainable.

You can see this dynamic at work by comparing the House GOP Medicare elimination budget to the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ “People’s Budget” of tax hikes and defense cuts. The striking thing about these proposals is their mix of radicalism and conservatism. Ryan’s budget really would leave the tax burden more-or-less where it’s historically been. And the People’s Budget really doesn’t entail a dramatic expansion in social services. It’s just that maintaining historical levels of taxation require huge cuts in service levels, and maintaining historic commitments to social services requires big tax hikes. But to the “moderate” on the street, this all sounds extreme. A sensibly centrist budget plan shouldn’t have to include big cuts in major programs or big tax increases. Things should just more or less continue as they’ve been. At the elite level, people tend to know this isn’t workable and thus find themselves pushed to a whole variety of views that the public doesn’t like.