"Without a credible vision of a shared past or a shared future, centrism is reduced to the self-serving manipulation of the moralism of the Left and the indirection of the Right, in defense of an illegitimate status quo." Julius Krein offers a thought experiment, where the driving force of political "realignment" ends up being the center-left establishment.
The ongoing drumbeat of (mostly hostile) media commentary on the “New Right” suggests that some kind of realignment may in fact be occurring among Republicans. Despite its limited impact on policy to date, the New Right likely deserves some credit for the increasingly robust efforts of Governor Ron DeSantis and other Republican officeholders against “woke capital,” and it has seen primary victories for a few of its favorite candidates.
But another realignment may also be underway, one whose success or failure has the potential to be at least as consequential. This is the realignment that appears to be emerging within the mainstream of the Democratic Party.
For the first time since the Clinton administration, when neoliberal “New Democrats” seized control of the party, a few centrist liberals seem to be looking for novel narratives and policies to differentiate themselves from progressives. In the 1980s and ’90s, these “third way” efforts focused on economic policies that broke with the “big government” legacies of the New Deal and Great Society. They also included symbolic statements in defense of political and cultural moderation, such as Bill Clinton’s “Sister Souljah moment.” The defining issues for today’s center-left include opposition to “defunding the police” and defending “free speech” against “woke” excesses. Economically, centrist Democrats range from rearguard neoliberals to a rising group of “supply‑side progressives,” in opposition to “socialist” welfarism.
What is notable here is not the emergence of a conflict between centrist and progressive wings of the Democratic Party—a long-standing and perhaps permanent feature of partisan politics, especially in a two-party system—but the change in the underlying terms of the debate. At least in recent decades, centrists and progressives have typically differentiated themselves along a developmental axis rather than a strictly ideological one. In other words, centrists usually claimed to support the same goals as progressives, but presented themselves as more mature, serious, and realistic in their approach to achieving them. This dynamic was especially visible in the primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (for example, Clinton’s characterization of Sanders’s proposals as promising America “a pony”), as well as Clinton’s primary campaign against Barack Obama, and Obama’s relationship with the progressive Left. The main thrust of centrist arguments was not that they repudiated progressive commitments, only that they were more practical about how to achieve them.