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?