Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

U.S. moderates aren’t in the middle

Chrystia Freeland
Jul 6, 2012 15:12 UTC

Go to the Aspen Ideas Festival – or to any similar confab of affluent elites gathered to solve the problems of the world in luxurious, remote hamlets – and you can be sure that a dominant theme will be a lament for the vanishing political center.

Where, panel after panel will ask, are the wise moderates, able to seek compromise and rise above partisanship in pursuit of the public good? America’s biggest problems, and its inability to tackle them head-on, will usually be cited as the consequence of this lack of a sensible middle.

Most of the wealthy and well-positioned people in the rooms where these sorts of discussions are conducted see themselves as members of that sadly disempowered middle, so reflections along these lines are generally well received.

But the problem with this approach is its implicit assumption that politics, or at least policy, is a win-win game. Policies that serve the collective good are out there to be found, if only we publicly minded moderates were in charge.

But what if it isn’t just the political battle at the voting booth that is partisan, but the policies themselves, and their outcomes, too?

Will belief trump facts?

Chrystia Freeland
Sep 2, 2011 14:59 UTC

You might call it the cognitive divide — the split between an evidence-based worldview and one that is rooted in faith or ideology — and it is one of the most important fault lines in the United States today.

President Barack Obama called attention to the cognitive divide, and reminded us which side he comes down on, at the beginning of this week, when he chose the Princeton University economist Alan Krueger to lead his Council of Economic Advisers.

Krueger is a labor economist, and at first blush, that focus may seem the important part of his résumé. Unemployment, after all, is still above 9 percent, and the president has said job creation is his priority. But when you talk to the insiders about Krueger, what they emphasize is his mastery of data and his utter commitment to the truths it can be coaxed to tell.

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