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Events of the last week give centrists a big boost

Posted: Thursday, December 16, 2010

If you are a political moderate, you have to love what's gone on the last few days, including Monday in New York City. Lions and lambs aren't lying down together, but the middle ground is certainly being sought and elevated.

We've had the tax compromise negotiated between the White House and congressional Republicans. We've had the hug-the-center speech that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered last week. And we've had the No Labels rally that was held Monday to promote a political dialogue that transcends the sloganeering of the left and right.

Add those up, and this has been a wonderful run for those of us who believe the country is best governed from the middle. The center doesn't produce perfect products, but it is where people from different points of view gather to work out solutions.

Let's start with the tax deal.

The negotiations between Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were what bipartisanship looks like. It is bloody. It is brutal. But it yields answers.

In this case, it yielded a solution that requires both parties to give up something to get a larger good. The bill could bolster the economy through postponing a tax increase, returning money to Americans through a payroll tax reduction and generating investment through keeping capital gains tax rates low. It also would extend benefits to the unemployed.

Is this where the tax debate should stop? No. Congress either needs to find a way to finance these cuts over the next two years if it plans on making them permanent or overhaul the tax code in a way that both lowers rates and increases revenues.

An overhaul is preferable. A simpler code could stimulate investment and offset the deficit. (Washington also must offset the deficit through modernizing entitlement programs and reducing Pentagon spending.)

Here's some good news about overhauling the tax code: The president hinted last week that he's interested in lowering rates for all, simplifying filings through fewer deductions and raising revenues through the changes to reduce the deficit.

But that's act two. Congress first must pass this sensible tax compromise. Bill Clinton superbly explained it last week. Even Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who hugs the right, didn't take shots at President Barack Obama over it when given the chance on Fox News. Let's get this done.

Next, there's Bloomberg's speech.

He chided Democrats for being so anti-business and rebuked Republicans for thinking the economy will heal itself.

The independent wasn't just a scold, either. He talked about encouraging entrepreneurs, lowering business taxes and investing in programs that move people forward. For the latter, he cited successful initiatives in New York to train workers for new jobs.

Of course, Bloomberg's already been a hawk about improving education. He's embraced strong standards, rigorous curriculum, charter schools and paying teachers based on their performance.

New York mayors have never moved to the presidential stage. Bloomberg may not either. But he's nonetheless creating room for centrists.

And then there's the No Labels rally.

The New York gathering was the brainchild of centrists like former Bush/McCain strategist Mark McKinnon. He told The Dallas Morning News recently that the meeting was a way "to give voice to the millions who are desperate for a more civilized, bipartisan dialogue."

Under the No Labels banner (www.nolabels.org), McKinnon and middle-road colleagues from both parties want to create a network of activists in every state and congressional district. They would challenge leaders who espouse extreme views. They also want to create enough room for people in the middle to thrive.

There's a larger discussion to be had about the definition of a moderate. But that can be for another day. For now, three cheers for progress. The last week has been an adrenaline rush for moderates after a year of tea parties and Democratic overreaching.

• William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him at the Dallas Morning News, Communications Center, Dallas, Texas 75265; e-mail: wmckenzie@dallasnews.com.



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