The last couple of times a centrist candidate who I liked came in third or worse in an important election, I tried to look beyond them for reasons why. The voting system, maybe? The influence of special interests? The pandering? Yes, one or more were there in varying degrees. But the usual response I got from other centrists came down to one factor: retail politics. Or, more accurately, the lack of the candidate’s ability to use it.
Now, generally, I prefer to keep promotional efforts to a minimum and let a product, service or candidate attract customers, users and voters on its own merits. Sadly, this has yet to work in an election. The “If you build it, they will come” mentality is simply impractical in today’s politics. In the age of the rapid-fire media, they have to know it’s there. And if they already know it’s there, they have to know it’s capable of staying there. So perhaps it was inevitable that I’m finally devoting a post to this thesis statement: Centrism isn’t sexy enough.
True, sexiness in a candidate or de facto spokesperson has never been a high priority for me. But I have indeed noticed that the typical token centrist – experienced, highly educated, wonkish, mature – has a hard time distilling his high-minded policy ideas into clear, simple words. He comes off as if he’s constantly lecturing you, which, I have theorized, is why he turns off voters outside of a faithful few. This way, he could be concise and have the intellectual heft to back it up when asked by intellectuals.
There’s also a distinct lack of pathos among centrist politicians. This is my least favorite of Aristotle’s modes of persuasion – yes, I studied rhetoric – but you can’t deny that it works. The most successful movements have spawned from the ability to combine emotions and ideas into political values. It demonstrates a deeper level of understanding than nuts and bolts. We need bring it down to “We’re all mad as hell – now let’s do something about it!”
Finally, centrism needs an identifiable figure. It needs to be humanized. It needs someone who is smart, funny, patriotic, plainspoken, unapologetic (unless the situation genuinely merits an apology) and capable of being the adult in the room. And, for purely aesthetic reasons, someone who is all of these plus young and attractive would be the best choice. Participants in the emerging centrist infrastructure need to find such a person and put them out front.
Once we make up for our marketing deficit, everyone else’s attention deficit has a much better chance of being filled in. We know we can beat wingers at the policy game. But for the non-policy crowd, it’s time to start kicking their asses at the politics game.