The nascent Democratic presidential primary offers voters two paths: moving to the left to energize the party’s base or picking someone who offers the promise of crossover appeal to the many voters who loathe Donald Trump but who find the left’s stances too extreme, or too much too soon.
As the country has polarized over the past five decades, the center has real political appeal. With the two parties sorted between conservatives and liberals and with a political press that practices both-sides coverage and paints each base as equally extreme, centrism and moderation seem to offer a way out of polarization and partisanship. And it promises something more: a politics driven by neutrality and civility, not crassness, passion and demonization of the opposition.
This is nothing new. Calls for moderation and civility, combined with denouncing both sides as too extreme, are common in moments of moral and political crisis. But they are not apolitical. They take the focus away from injustice and put it instead on the behavior of those protesting it. This allows critics to adopt a moral high ground as the civil, reasonable ones without ever publicly taking sides in the debate. But as our own past has shown, neutrality in times of moral and political crisis is anything but neutral.