Among the journalistic takeaways from the late Congress' death frenzies is the equivocal plight of the two parties -- the grown-up deal makers in both cases squeezed by hardcore, do-it-our-way extremists. On the Republican side John Boehner beset by Ted Cruz, in the Democratic camp the pragmatic Hillary Clinton wing forced to contend with the true-believing fans of Elizabeth Warren.
It is the strategy some of our friends in the liberal media may have seized on to take away the bitter taste of defeat at the polls. In this telling, the left-left MoveOn.org/Daily Kos faction, anti-military and pro-big government, has its right-wing counterpart in the "populist" social conservative/Tea Party coterie. The members of both movements groove on purity. "No compromise!" is their watchword, "never" their adverb of choice. Their feet are planted in intellectual concrete.
Meanwhile, the old-fashioned dealmakers, the get-it-done kids, look warily over their shoulders for sounds of fanatics coming up behind them. It is hard to believe Sen. Warren's grandchildren are not put to bed nightly with warnings to behave lest the big bad Cruz emerge from the nursery curtains to "get them."
Oh, well. The interpreters of modern politics have to say something about the present situation by way of establishing their prophetic credentials. The "centrist" vs. "way out there" narrative probably serves most useful purposes, except possibly for one overlooked detail.
The conservatives who find themselves equated with liberals in terms of hospitality offered to "extremists" have a convincing reply to make. Namely, "Our extremists are better than your extremists!"
What's that nonsense? Ted Cruz "better" than Elizabeth Warren? In what objective terms, sir? In what possible capacity, ma'am?
In directional capacity -- that's the answer. The hard-nosed junior senator from Texas has his defects as a strategist: He pushes and prods and generally cuts loose when patience and cooperation might better serve his cause, such as reminding Barack Obama that presidential power, as on immigration policy, has just and sensible limits.
On the other hand, the arc of Cruz' policy -- to appropriate Obama's (and Martin Luther King's) terminology -- bends toward freedom and resistance to the power of government to rub people's noses in the dirt. By contrast, the arc of Warren's policy, and the policy of the Democratic party's left-left wing, bends toward control and domination by government. Which would we genuinely prefer? Which arc, by and large, better fits the American tradition?
The journalistic narrative about pragmatic deal making by allegedly "centrist" leaders is not wholly mistaken. Deals there have to be for practical action ever to be accomplished. Further, being an ornery, individualistic bunch, 330 million Americans have 330 million viewpoints as to the guts of what government should do. Where's the true "center" -- the place 51 percent can agree on wanting to stand? Is it a true "place," or does it achieve identity only through the give-and-take we know as democratic politics?
Or -- here's another thought -- does that identity come from the balance of powers the Constitution instates at the center of our public life: authority apportioned to the states as well as Washington, D.C., distributed proportionately among the three branches of the federal government?
Yes! Is the Constitution itself the "center"? Why not? Maybe the conservative "extremists" hoping, whatever their defects of style and strategy, to correct the present imbalance of government power are a more prepossessing bunch than the Warren Democrats, just on account of their aims.
They know better, for instance, than to suppose the federal government can usefully regulate health care; they know a president can't legitimately remake national policy by issuing an order. They know freedom works better -- and sports a better, brighter pedigree -- than control and command and force and dictation, the battering rams of liberal policy.
Sorry -- the political narrative to which we're presently treated is wrong. The story isn't about wacko extremists in both parties giving their rightful leaders hell and headaches. The story is about the struggle, may it prosper, to put the Constitution back where it belongs -- at the center of our hopes, our action, our policy.