Think of America's two political parties as two big overlapping circles with most of their space in common. Then think of independent voters as a substantial circle within that shared center. Strangely enough, the "base"of the Democratic and Republican parties turns out to be on the outer fringes of their circles.
That's the weird geometry of American politics today. The President and Democratic Party leaders cowtow to the voters whose views are farthest from the huge centrist majorities. And no wonder. These "base" voters call the tune in the caucuses and primaries that determine in many cases not only who will run for President, but also party candidates for the Senate, the House and statehouses around the country.
The Bush GOP has given Evangelical Christians more sway in American politics than any religious group has ever exercised--except for the Pilgrims in Plymouth and the Mormons in Utah. Social issues like abortion, fetal stem-cell research, even gay marriage--on which most Americans have moderate views--are indelible litmus tests for Republican candidates. And anti-war Democrats are increasingly trying to make Iraq a threshold issue for their party--as Joe Lieberman is discovering in Connecticut.
Indeed, moderates in both parties--men like Lieberman and Republican senator Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island--are an increasingly besieged minority within their parties. The Republicans and Democrats have abandoned the big-tent approach that made FDR and his biggest fan, Ronald Reagan two of the most successful pols in our history.
It's no wonder that Presidential elections are so close that they can be decided by the voters of a single state--Florida in 2000 (by 537 votes for Bush) and Ohio (for Bush by 51 per cent to 49 per cent) in 2004.
Why are both parties forsaking the center, where American elections are won? And why doesn't a new political movement--call it the radical middle if you like--coalesce to seize this nearly unprecedented opportunity?
I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know that politics--like nature--abhors a vacuum, and there's a hole in the heart of American politics wide enough to drive a bandwagon through.