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Notes from an Extreme Centrist: Why Don’t Our Politics Reflect What Americans are Really Like?

| Opinion | March 14, 2019

Steven Baron wrote a 900-word opinion piece in last week’s Gazette rebutting my column of the previous week. He attempted to rip my arguments apart piece by piece. For the record, I think Donald J. Trump is a despicable human being and his presidency is a national disaster. Baron is an ardent Trump supporter. Despite that, Steven Baron is one my best friends in California. I literally love the man, not like Trump “loves” Kim. I really love Steve. More than that, I deeply respect and trust him. I am confident he feels the same way about me.

Since we met in synagogue several years ago, we have been debating each other politically and have been fast friends. In the years we have known each other, despite our political differences, not a single angry word has passed between us and we see each other and break bread together at least two times a week in synagogue. That is what America is really like, or at least the America Steve and I live in.

Once upon a time, our politics were more like that and less of the take-no-prisoners blood sport it has become. In the ‘80s, political rivals Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neal were friends who enjoyed each other’s company. About 20 years earlier, LBJ introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but Everett Dirksen got it passed. Think about that for a minute. A Democratic president and the top Republican in Congress worked together to forever change America for the better! Where have we gone wrong?

LBJ’s Vietnam and Nixon’s Watergate made many Americans, if not most, into political cynics who distrust government. I’ve always thought that had Robert F. Kennedy lived to become president, everything since then would have been different. We would have left Vietnam before the worst domestic conflicts concerning the war had occurred. There would have been no Watergate. RFK was the last national politician who could give the same exact speech on the same day to black working class Roxbury and white ethnic working class South Boston crowds, getting enthusiastic ovations from both groups. Ronald Reagan restored some of that with his Morning in America politics, but with Talk Confrontation Radio, Newt No Compromise Gingrich and Slick Will, the dye was cast and it has only gotten worse, climaxing in the most divisive president since the Civil War in Donald Trump.

It didn’t have to be this way. Trump essentially won the election on his signature issues, immigration and unfair trade relationships – both of which bleed away secure American blue-collar high-wage jobs. He won the immigration debate with the American people. The reason the bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013 failed to become law is that no one trusted the Democrats to secure the border. Everyone trusts Trump to secure the border. After winning the election, he was in a perfect place to finally resolve the immigration issue by securing the border and using the Senate bill as a starting point for dealing with the issue in an equitable, fair and sensible way, and with the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants who have been living here for years. He could have chosen to unite the nation and resolve a simmering issue. If nothing else, Trump has proven how he can command the congressional GOP to fall in line and slavishly follow his lead. The Democrats would have jumped at the chance to give Trump his wall in return for something resembling that 2013 Senate bill. Instead, he chose to demagogue the issue because he calculated it works better for him politically as a highly charged wedge issue than would a solution. Don’t get me wrong; the Democrats have consistently made the same craven calculation. So, an issue that reasonable sensible people can solve remains an open wound in the nation. And the exact same dynamic drives several of the most contentious issues dividing Americans. Trust me, if Steve and I were locked in a room with a few technocrats who know the technical esotericism of the issue, we would solve the whole thing in a day or two. Why? Because we respect each other and have no ulterior motives other than doing what is right for America. We listen to each other and we are open to reasonable compromise.

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Our current political process, especially the presidential contest, works in a way that exacerbates conflict and undermines solutions. Winning the primaries demands extreme uncompromising positions from the candidates. If the nominee moderates his/her positions during the general election campaign, he/she risks the hypocrite flip-flopper tag. What can be done to break this self-destructive cycle? In Donald Trump, we have a president that a third of the nation hates, a third loves and a third distrusts, but that middle third is also very suspicious of Democrats, mostly for very good reasons. The Democrats who vote in the primaries must vote for a moderate. They must center their main campaign themes on unifying America, character, honesty and a willingness to compromise to resolve issues. They also must nominate a candidate with the record and credibility that the middle third of America can believe. Right now, with Sherrod Brown out of the race, unless Biden announces, that looks like Klobuchar. Personally, I’m fantasizing a Democratic dream team ticket of Biden/Klobuchar. I once fantasized registering as a Republican to vote for Kasich in the GOP primary, but that’s not going to happen. The GOP is the party of Trump. As an extreme centrist, I’ll remain a registered Democrat and hope for the best.

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