Kathleen Parker And John Avlon Want You To Believe They're 'Centrists'


You've just got to love the framing they used for this segment from CNN's Parker/Spitzer earlier this week -- Can a centrist movement in the U.S. succeed or is it too 'mushy' to hold up?

This just smells of more Republican re-branding with some of the so-called Republican "moderates" wanting to distance themselves from the teabirchers that have taken over their party. They may have done well during the mid-term elections just catering to their base, but that's not going to work so well in 2012.

Former Rudy Giuliani staffer John Avlon's been pushing this nonsense for some time now, but as Karoli pointed out last week, there's a new group jumping on his bandwagon as well. Kathleen Parker never mentioned the "No Labels" group during the segment, but it may as well have been an infomercial for them by Parker and Avlon.

It's really a shame that Thomas Frank wasn't allowed to speak more to counter Avlon's talking points. Kathleen Parker and John Avlon can put all of the "mushy middle", "we're a center-right country", bipartisan spin on this they want. It's not going to change the fact that they're both a couple of right wingers. There's not a lick of difference between their economic policy positions and those of Dick Armey and the Koch brothers.

CNN's off air interview with Frank looked a lot more interesting than listening to Avlon's claptrap about how voters just really want all the bickering to stop and for our politicians to all just get along, which is doublespeak demanding Democratic capitulation.

Q: If we could arrange a private conversation between you and Rep. John Boehner, what would you say to him?

FRANK: I was struck by his line about Democrats “snuffing out the America that I grew up in.” It’s a charge that I frequently apply to conservatives, who have so resolutely smashed the middle-class society where I grew up in favor of a nation that is heaven on earth for the very rich—and an endless, losing struggle for working people. It’s also something I often say about market forces generally, which are the most radical and disruptive cultural influences I know of. Conservatives always claim to love the market and to deplore what’s happening in “the culture,” but they never explain how they can hold these two views at the same time. Wouldn’t it be great to have John Boehner himself sort out these things out for us?

I’m also always been impressed by his luminous neckties, and I would of course tell him so.

Q: What credit do you give the Tea Party for changing American politics at this moment?

FRANK: They demonstrated two important things:

- That the supposed power of centrism is in fact just a comforting beltway fairytale. That the “median voter” doesn’t really determine things. That politics really is a battle of small, committed groups—and also of money.

- That there’s a place in politics for class-based discontent. That conservatives can speak to that emotion just as readily as liberals can. And that if liberals don’t understand this—if they just blow it off on the grounds that working-class people will always vote for Democrats because duh—that they will keep losing, and they will deserve to lose. [...]

Q:As you get older, do you find yourself becoming more or less liberal?

FRANK: Not speaking strictly for myself here, but what I find people outgrow isn’t liberalism per se, it’s the tendency to treat politics like a branch of aesthetics, where what matters are gestures and what you’re after—the object of politics—is a demonstration of your originality and your surpassing cleverness. When you get older you realize how impotent that approach is, and you also understand the disastrous consequences things like, say, banking deregulation have for people.

Full transcript of the clip above below the fold.

PARKER: Earlier this year, I used my syndicated column to declare myself a centrist, someone who is politically anti- ideological. And it seems I'm not alone. Political independents, those neither right or left that smack dab in the broad middle, today, constitutes 42 percent of the electorate. Of course, now I'm wondering -- can a centrist movement succeed?

SPITZER: Tonight's "Constitution Avenue" guests have different answers to the viability of the political center, Thomas Frank satirically calls it the magic middle. Meanwhile, CNN contributor John Avlon literally wrote a book that what he calls the vital center.

Welcome, gentlemen. Let me begin to this by asking, what is the middle? How do you define it? What does it really stand for?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the vast of the majority of Americans are non-ideological problem-solvers and they really distrust the absolutism our politics has started to come up with and the polarization of the two parties, the fact that the extremes have effectively hijacked our political debate and increasingly our government. And there's a commonsense resentment of that approach to politics.

SPITZER: All of which sounds wonderful and it's almost impossible to disagree with that impure concept, but obviously, you think it doesn't really translate into politics day to day. Why not?

THOMAS FRANK, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I live in Washington, D.C., and when you --

SPITZER: You can start your argument right there.


FRANK: To hell with that place. But, look, in Washington, D.C., centrism means, what John just said, that sounds so noble. You know, I don't know anybody that wouldn't sound of that. A practical problem solver, that's me.

PARKER: It is noble. It's wonderful.


FRANK: But that's not what they mean by that term in Washington, D.C. What they mean by that term in Washington, D.C., is this place -- and there is only -- by the way, the definition I'm going to give you is only something that is believed in two parts of American life. One is the sort of punditocracy in Washington, D.C., maybe here in New York as well. Present companies clearly --


FRANK: And then the others in political science departments of the nation.

PARKER: I'm going say something here. Talking about centrism in Washington is irrelevant, OK? Washington, as you say, it's an industry town. If you're not one thing or another, centrists are just this mushy middle people who don't have any thoughts or any ideas. No ideology. Exactly. We don't have an ideology because we're anti- ideology.

SPITZER: Now, I want to pick up on something that Thomas said before, which I think is exactly right. In fact, the Democratic Party has been very much in that middle and it's the Republican Party that's moved to the right. And I want to use one example, which is -- the example that's on the table, is the problem with the mechanics. But I want to talk about the issue that's on the table today -- the tax cut. FRANK: Yes.

SPITZER: The Democratic Party is saying give a tax cut to everybody below $250,000. Point to $500,000, nobody would be terribly upset. But 65 percent of the American public believes that. The Republican Party is holding us hostage in opposition.

So, answer to Thomas' point, isn't the Democratic Party kind of where that center is on that one critical issue?

PARKER: John, you absolutely have an answer for this and I want to you say it.

AVLON: Good. Here's the issue. The Republican Party is dominated by the far right. They think tax cuts is theology. It used to be that fiscal conservatism was synonymous to fiscal responsibility. That's stop the case during the 1990s and 2000, when all of a sudden, it was supply side no matter what.

The Democratic Party has an opportunity here if they own that.

FRANK: The conservative movement has a motto. I'm not a conservative. You guys know that. I'm pretty liberal but I admire the conservatives in all sort of ways and one of them is they have this great --

PARKER: Somehow, I think this is going to be an insult.

FRANK: What is a conservative movement about? You remember Howard Phillips (ph), the conservative caucus?

SPITZER: Oh, yes.

FRANK: He's saying way back when, in the late '70s, early '80s, we organize discontent, OK? There is -- that is the attitude that got the mood of the country exactly right this year.

AVLON: That is the attitude behind conservative populism and far left populism. And there are people who want politics to simply be a mirror of that. And I think a lot of folks here on the far right who say, you know, as you've written in the past, that bipartisanship is the most perfunctory kind of campaign rhetoric, there are people on the far right who believe that, too. To play to their base crowd, the Karl Roves that believe --


AVLON: Well, not in the current context. Base politics that helped create the problem as a country.

The 2010 election happened because it is -- as you know -- it's a low-turnout, high intensity election. And because we're a center- right country, if Republicans play to the base and got conservative populist outrage, especially in the time of economic downturn, they wouldn't be able to get across. SPITZER: But here's where the Democrats got it wrong and I'm with you on this. The Democratic Party by so degrading its ideology, stood for nothing. It was mush. Mush does not win. You need to stand for something.


SPITZER: They stood for such a Malcolm of nothing that nobody could stand up and say, I'm supportive because of X. But the Tea Party crafted an ideology, crazy as it may be, people could carry their pitchfork and feel good about it.


PARKER: You know what? You talk about people being angry. They are also angry about the pitchforks. They are tired of the partisan bickering. They may not be able to articulate a position on every single issue, which is what you want everyone to do, they want to say all they say is -- OK, that's the left, I'm not that. They see the Sarah Palin brigade on the right, they say, I'm not that. So, that leaves this is broad center where people are looking for a place to land, right?

SPITZER: You go first. You're just inching to get in there.

AVLON: Look, we've got to plant a flag from the center. We need to stand for something. We need to play offense. That's been part of the problem, how we've allowed extremes to hijack our politics here. But the problem in the whole debate right now is that 93 percent of the American people in a poll by "The Wall Street Journal" and NBC said that they're tired. I think there's too much partisan infighting in Washington. And the problem is that the elites --


AVLON: But the elites in Washington seem to think that 93 percent of the Americans are stupid. They seem to think that they don't really know what they want. And there's an academic group on the far left that always seems to think that the American people would vote socialist if they only knew how.

SPITZER: By the way, John, here's the thing. I think the Democratic Party if you understood it is in the middle. They just haven't managed to stand up and speak with enough fervor, excitement and energy to say, having --

AVLON: Bill Clinton.

SPITZER: Bill Clinton did, but I'm talking about the past couple of years. Having been in that game for a little while, and I did OK for some period of time, you do it with a passion and you say whether it's Wall Street, whether it's the environment, whether it's the middle class, just do it with some energy and some passion.

AVLON: I agree.

SPITZER: And then people will forgive you having an argument with the other side because they know they're with you. It's when you don't stand for anything other than Bush that they run to people who do.

FRANK: Partisanship is one of the most disgusting things when you move to Washington, D.C., and you behold it first had and it's like you have a Republican kick ball team in the Democrat.

AVLON: Right.

FRANK: It's ridiculous and they have fistfights at keggers (ph). It's idiotic.


FRANK: That doesn't mean that the ideas are bad. And look, the problem is the conservative movement did a very, very good job this time around of expressing itself as a movement of the disenfranchised and reaching out to anger across the board, anti-Washington, anti- partisan anger, and the Democrats are like, but we're the party of reason.

AVLON: -- will not do as well. Here's the thing. We're a center right country.


FRANK: No, no, no.

PARKER: Ding, ding, ding, ding. I'm sorry, we do have to wrap up.


PARKER: But before we go, let me just say this. Nobody can argue that a debate about centrism is boring. And I was going to ask you, I know you said you want to be aggressively centrist. And I thought for a while that might be an oxymoron.


PARKER: But you have proved that it is not.

AVLON: There you go.

SPITZER: All right.

AVLON: Pulling off from the center.

SPITZER: Thomas Frank, John Avlon, thank you for helping me effectively abolish the mushy center. It doesn't exist anymore.

PARKER: Wrong, wrong, Eliot.

SPITZER: You can be mushy. I'm not going to be mushy. PARKER: Not going to be mushy.



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