An absent political center

In politics, the sensible center is a lonely place. No matter that most Snohomish County voters consider themselves moderates. The challenge is systemic: Interest groups animate political parties, recasting their agendas as true-believer dogma. For adulterating the English language and, more significantly, enshrining a de facto litmus-test for who qualifies as a True Republican or a True Democrat, may these hidebound interest groups whither away. (Party honchos developing backbone is the will-never-happen solution.)

Party platforms reflect the power of outliers. Can a pro-life Catholic call herself a Democrat? Can a pro-gun control or a pro-mass transit atheist call himself a Republican?

Both parties bandy “big tent” language, but in practice candidates and elected officials are beholden to purity tests. It’s an approach that would have cast a negative light on former Washington Gov. Dan Evans, a pro-conservation Republican.

Single-issue politics are part of the American political fabric. Many times those single-issues (think Abolition in the 19th Century) have the moral weight to transcend labels, true enough. Ultimately, however, politics is about the art of the possible, and that requires compromise. Doctrinaire partisans, while often the best red-meat speakers, are usually the least effective legislators. The unglamorous center is where things get done.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, a Snohomish County Democrat, is an instructive example. This Editorial Page has disagreed with Hobbs on a few issues, including the wisdom of a coal-export facility at Cherry Point near Bellingham. Nevertheless, Hobbs embraces positions that align with his core principles. He may pay a price for that, as activists target his district. That’s unfortunate because Hobbs, who lives in Lake Stevens, is a good reflection of his sensible-center, 44th Legislative district.

Two recent examples involving Hobbs merit flagging. Leaders of Washington CAN! gave the senator an ultimatum to renounce his leadership role in a bipartisan national group called “Fix the Debt” or they’ll begin to leaflet and campaign against him. (Hobbs wants to start a conversation about our colossal national debt. Oh, the shame.) Note to pressure groups: Ultimatums only irritate harried lawmakers who are trying to do their best. Hobbs also has been the target of WEA activists for his support of education reform (a teacher doorbelled his family home in Lake Stevens, Hobbs said.)

Hobbs is in public life, and politics is a contact sport. All the while, pressure groups, both left and right, should re-noodle their tactics. Do activists want to get things done or placate a narrow band of supporters? More often than not, the art of the possible and the public interest are one.

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