for the middle: Can cure partisan politics?

Part political action committee, part grass-roots organizer, has an ambitious goal: to combat partisan politics and be a zealous advocate of the 'radical middle.'

Douglas Graham/Roll Call/Newscom
Former Rep. Tom Davis (R) of Virginia greets House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland before the start of a congressional hearing on Jan. 27, 2009.

The American public has been saying for years that it wants bipartisanship – or better yet, nonpartisanship. Barack Obama campaigned for president on it. As voters, more and more Americans self-identify as independent, even as the two major parties cater to their ideological wings.

Enter, a well-funded effort backed by a high-profile group of politicos pushing what it calls nonideological policy solutions and bipartisan comity. The initiative, which boasts support from the likes of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia, Rep. Bob Inglis (R) of South Carolina, and New York Times columnist David Brooks, formally launched Monday with a day-long program in New York City.

But can such an effort really foster bipartisanship? The American political system is rigidly centered on its two main parties. Independents and third-party candidates are able to break through and win office occasionally – but in Congress, at least, they still end up caucusing with one side or the other. The challenge, therefore, is steep.

On a scale of 1 to 10, hyperpartisanship is “about a 15,” says David Gergen, former adviser to presidents of both parties, speaking on a panel at the launch.

Back in Washington, in fact, two years of rigid partisanship have given way to the politics of compromise, at least temporarily. The Republican landslide in the November midterms has pushed President Obama to work across the aisle in the lame-duck session of Congress, leading to a controversial tax-cut deal that may well pass with more Republican than Democratic votes.

Whether Mr. Obama can make “triangulation” a regular part of his repertoire remains to be seen. But given the larger political dynamic that dominated the November elections – foremost, the rise of the conservative and energetic tea party movement – analysts are betting on a fair amount of gridlock going forward.

And so, the folks at are calculating, there’s a crying need for the “sensible middle” to band together and craft solutions to the problems the two parties have failed to address. The group is focusing on international trade, energy policy, election reform, the federal deficit, and political polarization. It doesn’t have fully formed answers on all of them, but rather is pushing for a nonideological analysis with an eye toward solutions.

“We’re going to call ourselves the ‘radical center,’ if you have to, of people who look at these issues and care about results,” said former Rep. Tom Davis (R) of Virginia, now president of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership. “Our political leaders have some smart dedicated people. But at this point, they’re not being propped up by people like us, they’re being propped up by people on the right or the left.” aims to set up chapters in all 435 congressional districts, and host monthly meetups to discuss issues. It also is setting up chapters on college campuses around the country, and establishing a political action committee that will help elected officials in the 2012 primaries who face challenges by the “ideological extremes” of either party. According to its website, the group also plans to “monitor and track the activities of all members of Congress to ensure they are not playing hyperpartisan games.”

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