I read on Twitter a number of accounts of Aspen Ideas Festival attendees bemoaning the partisanship and extremism in Washington, and yearning for some kind of centrist third party.
There’s a lot that’s wrong with this, but I think the starting point of wisdom on this score is that you need to ask yourself why the current system doesn’t produce centrist policy outcomes. After all, we already have the bicameralism thing, the supermajority voting in the Senate thing, and the presidential veto thing. What’s more, though it’s true many elected officials don’t represent electorally competitive districts, it’s also true that the members of Congress near median do face competitive elections. So you have a system that’s set up to generally demand compromise between the political parties, and that features pivotal members who have incentives to care about the median voter.
Now of course this does get you a lot of centrist policy outcomes if by “centrist” you mean “nothing changes.” But the same features of the system that lead to a tendency toward stasis also lead toward a tendency toward tactical extremism. Everyone is obsessed with negotiating strategy and the Overton Window. If you want politicians to act differently, you’d need them to be operating in some kind of different institutional context. Stephen Harper spent a large share of his re-election campaign trying to reassure Canadians that a Conservative majority wouldn’t lead to the implementation of an American-style for-profit health insurance system. I don’t think that’s because Harper has radically different fundamental views about health care policy from your average U.S. Republican nearly so much as it is that the very lack of checks on a Canadian parliamentary majority make candidates very eager to avoid frightening the electorate.