The Politics Of Fury Isn't The Answer

Apolitics of polarization has taken hold in America, with Republicans and Democrats embroiled in an ideological conflict that promises few remedies to what truly ails the nation. Haunted by the growing specter of downward mobility, the middle class is demanding to be heard and is ready to strike out at those who do not listen. These voters are being told that government, and the people who run it, are the enemy, and, fearful and furious, they appear ready to agree.

But those politicians who seek to divide don't really get it. Paradoxically, as candidates campaign on platforms of divisiveness, a centrist political program is already being implemented at the local level. Those running for the Senate and House of Representatives would do well to look for guidance to a growing number of governors and big-city mayors.

Delivery, not destruction, is what the middle class wants. That's the heart of the new centrism. From Republicans such as Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York to such Democrats as Governor Roy Romer of Colorado, politicians are finding that these voters oppose only wasteful, corrupt government. Small, efficient governments that deliver education, protection, and help for the unfortunate are in favor.

Welfare reform is the second leg of the centrist political agenda. Workfare is a reaffirmation of basic middle-class values. Conservative arguments that IQ is the root cause of poverty or liberal bromides that the poor are victims of history have no constituency in the vast middle swath of voters.

Tax cuts for middle-income families with children is the third part of the new political centrism. The tax burden on the middle class has been rising steadily through the '80s and '90s, a time of declining real income. It is time for more of the financial rewards of work to stay within the family.

Curbing the growth of Medicare and Social Security spending is the only way to pay for these middle-class tax cuts. Both parties know there is no alternative, yet politics prevents either group from suggesting the truth. The solution: a bipartisan commission to recommend cuts and provide political cover. Building on the Kerry Commission would be a start.

The middle class wants government to work. It is angry at the institution but doesn't seek to destroy it, only to make it more effective. This is the chance for Americans to renew their sense of common citizenship.