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This aerial picture shows the Washington Monument standing on the National Mall and the White House at far left in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RC1C9C4C2D70
FixGov

Is there a center in American politics anymore?

The answer is yes. Making the case are two well-known analysts—one from each political party. In their recent publication, Ideas to Re-Center America, William Kristol, a conservative Republican veteran of the George H.W. Bush White House and William Galston, a Democrat and veteran of the Bill Clinton White House, lay out seven big ideas that they believe could move politics beyond polarization.[1]

Some of the ideas may be a tougher sell for their political parties than either Kristol or Galston admit. For instance, I think the recommendations on regulation, sensible though they might be in promoting new business, could be a tough sell for many Democrats. And their ideas for immigration reform, which include a path to citizenship, might not change the minds of many Republicans.

However, what is refreshing and simultaneously depressing about their work is that, on the whole, they identify problems and solutions that are barely part of the mainstream political discussion. It’s not just that they aren’t tweetable, it’s that they constitute only a fraction of the current political dialogue.

The very first issue in their book is not whether NFL players should stand or kneel during the national anthem but the dominance of American’s five largest technology companies—Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft. As much as we love them, these companies have been guilty of all the bad things we associate with monopolies. According to Galston and Kristol they, “…inhibit innovation, block competition, threaten consumer privacy and contribute to growing income inequality.” And yet, no one has been really serious about reining them in.

The second issue in their booklet is sometimes mentioned in the current debate, but only in passing—the amount of American innovation that is routinely stolen by other countries. “Every day,” they write, “the crown jewels of the U.S. economy—our intellectual property—are being stolen by America’s economic competitors. China is the main culprit, and the theft goes well beyond pirated DVDs.” China is often mentioned as an economic culprit, in fact Trump continually railed against them during the campaign. But his chief complaint about China—that they were currency manipulators—turned out to be out of date and we haven’t heard a coherent critique of China yet.

Next they turn to the issue of work and the fact that a lower percentage of working-age men are working than at any time in our recent history. They attack fraud and downright laziness—“Call laziness what it is”—themes sure to find resonance on the right. The discussion about childcare and family leave is sure to find resonance on the left. But the fact that both parties see work as more than a means to an economic end is surely the start of a discussion more important than what bathroom transgender people are allowed to use. Discussing the importance of work, they write that it is important “… not just to our economy but to an individual’s sense of purpose and meaning and to the cohesiveness of our communities.”

A discussion of work leads, of course, to a discussion of the great disparities in wealth that have grown along with polarization. In spite of Kristol’s participation, the solutions here all seem to come out of the Democratic play book: tax all income as income, expand the earned income tax credit, increase the minimum wage and incentivize profit sharing for workers. But if a conservative like Kristol believes he can convince his party that these are necessary fixes to the decline in middle class comes, then surely there is something important happening here.

The following section deals with taxes and infrastructure, the combination of which has been the great bi-partisan deal that no one has been able to make—yet. If the previous section leans Democratic in its solutions, this one leans Republican—except that the call to lower taxes by broadening the base while lowering the rates, something big parts of corporate American would love, is paired with a call to reduce incentives to move investments and profits over seas, something close to the labor unions’ hearts. Tacked onto a large-scale infrastructure commitment this center really could hold.

The last two sections deal with regulation and immigration, and again, the center on those issues may be hard to find. But political feasibility aside, what makes this document so powerful is that it tackles real issues of the economy we have instead of wallowing in the economy we wish we had. For that reason alone, it is a breath of fresh air.

Elaine C. Kamarck is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of Primary Politics: Everything You Need to Know about How America Nominates Its Presidential Candidates. She is a member of the Democratic National Committee and a superdelegate to the Democratic convention.

[1] In the interests of full disclosure Bill Galston is a colleague of mine here at Brookings and a frequent collaborator.

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