The Rise of Radical Pragmatism?

Soft centrism is out. Radical pragmatism is in. That is a conclusion I made this morning while reading responses to my post about a brewing "revolution:" a non-violent public upheaval that forces change from within the two-party system or usurps it.

One of two things is likely to happen: The existing parties will dramatically adapt to the times (a demographically challenged GOP has the farthest to go), or voters will demand and get alternatives. An independent presidential bid is increasingly likely. The rise of new parties is not out of the question.

This is, of course, just a theory. My list, "6 Reasons Why the Two-Party System May Become Obsolete," has at least one obvious omission: A leader who is suited to the times. So I asked readers to help me think through the issue, which will be a focus of my reporting and writing leading up to the 2014 and 2016 election.

John Haskell, senior fellow and curriculum chair at the Georgetown University's Government Affairs Institution, said, "I think you're on to something" and then proceeded to inject a healthy dose of skepticism into the notion that a "sensible center" will emerge.

More from his email:

"It is hard to see how a change resembling what you describe could happen, but of course no one I know envisioned the changes in the Eastern bloc at the end of the 1980s. Our domestic situation has got to be more flexible. The emergence of a "sensible center" has been an elusive goal. What I find interesting is this: when elite types (say Bloomberg, Huntsman, or, going back, John Anderson or Paul Tsongas) suggest a moderate, good government agenda, the response is tepid at best. When someone from a different cultural milieu does it the response can be stronger. Ross Perot is the case in point. His message in '92 was essentially the same as, say, Tsongas's was. Needless to say, the response to Perot was better. Seems to me getting Manchin on board is a sign of hope."

To be clear, I don't envision the rise of the moderate middle, an ideological movement. We're more likely to see a revolt against political dysfunction: Left, right or moderate, voters of all stripes want the nation's problems fixed, and their frustration may lead to the rise of radical pragmatism.  That is the idea behind "No Labels," a growing grassroots movement to shame Congress into working together to fix the nation's problems.

As I wrote Sunday, the kumbaya spirit of No Labels is easy to mock, and its own leaders aren't sure they will be an agent for change. But, if nothing else, the group is a symptom of the public's frustration -- a warning sign Washington should heed.

Reader Chris Zappone reminds us that one lesson of history is that rapid technological advancement leads to political unrest. "Didn't the rise of the nation state coincide with the rise of the printing press?" he emails. "Looked at that way, these changes could be dramatic."

More from Chris:

"One thing that's certain is the overwhelming appetite for change, and change everywhere. But I don't know if it's a matter of no labels as much as new labels. The human mind desires to name things. But the possibility of much more fluid electoral groupings -- made possible by new technology, with smaller core parties that act as the poles within the system, seems possible. I can see that happening. I know plenty of fiscal conservative/social liberals who feel misrepresented by Republicans, for example."

Dennis H. says the only answer seems to be a third party "emerging from the current political morass we now endure."

More from Dennis:

"Election after election, I see internally polarized Dems and Repubs frantically trying to draw their respective members to the "center" as the presidential election draws closer in the hopes that they will find acceptance from the outliers and undecideds as well. The intellectual insult and superficial nature of this deceitful practice has created deep, profound distrust, and apathy, born of frustration, across the political spectrum and some day will be credited with having produced the catalyst for a new party such as you described. Just desserts in my opinion."

One of the most profound problems facing the country is the growing lack of faith in the institutions that made America great. Government and politics, Dennis reminds us, is at the low end of the trust scale.

Geoffrey Hamlyn, a reader in North Carolina, picks up a thread of hoping in my writing -- the notion that technology has democratized our institutions, including politics. People have more power than ever to force adaption.

"Your article about the coming political realignment was insightful and hopeful," Hamlyn emails. "Our country desperately needs a change and moderation of tone and policy.  Only through this shift will we be able to tackle the significant problems besetting our nation.  I'll keep up with your coming articles, thank you for taking this on."