It might not seem like a moment for moderation in American political life. Polarization continues to divide the country. Former President Donald Trump retains his grip on the Republican Party, which is no less extreme today than it was at the height of Trump’s presidency. There’s a widespread perception in the U.S., meanwhile, that even President Joe Biden—who’s long represented a moderate tendency in the Democratic Party—has moved to the left in response to the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis. Yet moderates within Biden’s party seem to have very few complaints. Does the idea of a political center in America still make sense?

Jim Kessler is the co-founder and executive vice president for policy of Third Way, a center-left think tank founded in 2005 and based in Washington, D.C., who’s spent years pushing the idea of centrism in the Democratic Party. According to Kessler, there is still a significant base of moderate voters in the U.S., who tend to be pro-government and pro-market. Kessler describes centrists as more open to bigger government and deficit spending than they used to be—at least for now, in this moment of crisis—and he observes that Biden’s agenda includes a litany of policies Third Way has supported for ages. Kessler hopes the president can enact them—and improve moderates’ lackluster image in U.S. politics. “Bidenism,” he says, “is the new centrism.”

Graham Vyse: The idea of centrism has a lot of currency in the world, often without its meaning being entirely clear. Is the political center defined by a specific set of policies or practices, or what?

Jim Kessler: It’s not really a particular set of policies, because the world changes, politics changes, and centrism changes as well. Centrism has to be nimble to be relevant at all times, always looking at where we are now and where we’re going. Centrist voters tend to be people who see both sides of an argument. That’s the hallmark of those voters and also elected officials in the center. In general, a lot of centrists believe in active government but also believe in markets.

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