Fifty percent of American voters define themselves as political moderates, two-thirds favor political solutions that come from the center of the political spectrum, and Independents outnumber both Democrats and Republicans. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush each explicitly used Centrist strategies to win the White House-and twenty-first-century candidates will be compelled to do the same.
The title of this book suggests that it may be an analysis of how independent voters affect the political landscape. Instead, Avlon, a newspaper columnist and speechwriter for former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, offers a series of vignettes about political figures from presidents to governors whom he defines as centrists. While misleading titles are forgivable, the problem with this book is the misuse and misunderstanding of the meaning of centrist. Avlon implicitly defines centrism as the position held by the vast majority of Americans who fall between the extremists in the two major parties at any time in the history of the United States. By definition, the majority of Americans is the center, but the center isn't fixed; it shifts constantly but imperceptibly over time. He also assumes that centrism is always good, right, and even patriotic-a dangerous assumption when one considers that the majority of Americans in the 1850s tolerated slavery and in the 20th century demanded prohibition and accepted segregation, and that some of the greatest figures in American history weren't centrists but people who struggled against the establishment-people like Lincoln or FDR-to shape new centers. What the author thinks he's describing as centrism is actually moderation, compromise, and tolerance. For all its problems, the book is a good read that finds some commonality among an unusual collection of political personalities. Recommended only for larger public libraries with ample budgets.-Thomas J. Baldino, Wilkes Univ., Wilkes-Barre, PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 22, 2005
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Excerpt from Independent Nation by John Avlon
America is an independent nation. Born out of a war for independence, we instinctively distrust individuals who surrender their conscience and common sense to walk in lockstep with any ideological group or political party.
In his farewell address, George Washington warned future generations of Americans against "the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party," which "render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection." But over the past several decades, the Democratic and Republican parties have become increasingly identified with their most fundamental wings -- the "religious right" and the "lifestyle left" -- a relatively small number of extreme partisans who view their opponents as enemies and seem obsessed with imposing their beliefs on the rest of the American people.
At a time when political debate is too often dominated by the far left and the far right, Centrists cut an independent path between the extremes -- putting patriotism before partisanship and the national interest before special interests.
Centrism is the rising political tide in modern American life: It wins elections, moves media cycles, and drives political realignments. In response to perceived extremism by the two parties, voters are increasingly rejecting rigid partisanship, embracing instead the political principles of independence and moderation. In 1980, just 36 percent of American voters defined themselves as moderates. By 2000, that number had risen to 50 percent -- a moderate majority at a time when just 20 percent of voters describe themselves as liberal and 29 percent call themselves conservative. In addition, Independents now outnumber Republicans or Democrats nationwide, and 44 percent of Americans under thirty identify themselves as Independent. Looking back on the past thirty years in American culture, sociologist Alan Wolfe was correct to say that "the right won the economic war, the left won the cultural war, and the center won the political war." Now more than ever, the center of the political spectrum is the center of political gravity in the United States.