The Rise of the Radical Center: The Crisis of the Old Order

Jul 26, 2011Bo Cutter

Big changes are coming for Americans fed up with the crisis in governance.

Last week one of my oldest friends -- named Les Francis -- and I hosted a small dinner in Washington D.C. we called "the annual meeting of the Radical Center." Policy preferences differed. Party allegiances differed. Explanations for why we are where we are differed, but among this group -- everyone of whom had long histories of deep involvement in government and politics -- there was no disagreement on a central point: in the deficit/debt ceiling debacle unfolding before us we are seeing a crisis of governance.

This debacle is confirming -- and solidifying -- a view that has slowly been building among ordinary Americans for a long time: the Republican and Democratic parties are essentially bankrupt in a central sense of the term. They are not capable, separately or together, of governing America. The effects of this realization and conclusion will not be felt immediately -- next month -- but the avalanche has begun to move down the hill and it is going to pick up speed.

The evidence is increasingly hard to deny. Republicans have a 55% unfavorable rating by voters -- only exceeded by a 57% score in 1998 during their stupid effort to impeach President Clinton. Democrats have an unfavorable rating of 49%, their highest ever. A resounding 12% of voters express confidence in the Congress. And 62% of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. My bet is that these numbers will become worse not better between now and the 2012 election.

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But so what? Don't the two parties constitute a duopoly, so there is no real way for dissent to be registered except by not voting? Well, that may be changing.

To get a sense of this, I recommend two recent articles to you: first, Tom Friedman's column of July 23, "Make Way for the Radical Center"; and John Avlon's July 22 Daily Beast column, "The Web's Stealth Presidential Race." Both columns discuss the emergence of a new group -- Americans Elect -- which intends to do two simple things: (1) Provide ballot access to an independent bipartisan presidential ticket, which will be chosen through (2) a web based convention to be held in June 2012. I've been part of this effort for a couple of years, but that is not why I mention it here. Rather, I mention this new group to emphasize the following points: we are in the midst of a governing crisis; we are also in the midst of fundamental change in the "old order"; Americans are losing confidence rapidly in existing political arrangements; and technology now provides a way of leap-frogging the two party duopoly and going directly to the voters with a different message.

Both the necessary and the sufficient circumstances for the effective emergence of the radical center are now fulfilled. And the odds are mounting that within the next 2 presidential elections we will see political changes of the kind this country sees about twice a century.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team. He has also served in senior roles in the White Houses of two Democratic Presidents.

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