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Sunday, March 21, 2010

America is neither left nor right but centrist

It will surprise few to learn that the big picture often slips unnoticed past Washington's window.

The tea party movement -- organic, angry and thriving -- is only the most recent to take insiders by surprise. Out yonder, among shuttered storefronts and leaner lifestyles, the tea party has been a predictable response to supersized government spending and aggressive hubris.

Another movement percolating right in front of our noses seems to be equally invisible to establishment eyes. Independents -- neither right nor left but smack dab in the broad middle -- today constitute 42 percent of the electorate, according to a recent CBS/New York Times poll.

Approximately 70 million strong, these are America's new homeless class, people who are equally disgusted with both traditional parties and the special interests that control them. They're all ages, sexes, races, ethnicities, though younger Americans are crowding the front rows. Of those born after 1977, 44 percent identify as independent.

Independents as a group outnumber either party, in other words. Yet, given the hyperpartisanship that began under George W. Bush -- and has accelerated during President Obama's first year, thanks in large part to the enabling mechanism of the Internet -- one would think that America were divided into hard left and hard right.

We're not. We're a vast middle, slightly right-of-center nation. How is it that so many feel so disenfranchised by so few?

I run into the politically homeless everywhere I go. Meet two South Carolina men named Joe with whom I chatted over the Christmas holiday. Neither plumbers nor six-packs, both are successful businessmen and lifelong Republicans now wandering the political desert. Fiscal conservatives alienated by the GOP excesses, they're equally loath to identify themselves as Democrats.

Fast forward to the University of Pennsylvania, where I spoke to a journalism class a couple of weeks ago. I talked a bit about the wingnuttery that has hijacked politics and how some of us who consider ourselves moderates (otherwise known as apostates) have decided it's time to denounce the harsh partisans who feed on polarization. It's time to give independents a voice. (Continues here at WaPo)

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