by Senator Paul Tsongas
New York Times
December 10, 1995
The following piece by Paul Tsongas describes the "sensible center" in American politics as fiscally conservative, socially inclusive, supportive of the environment and of campaign finance reform. Not much has changed in the 15 years since he wrote it. - editor
If you are ever in front of an audience and searching for an engaging topic, try this: suggest there is a "passionate center" to the American body politic -- or "sensible center," as Colin Powell would say, or "radical center" as others would argue. Suggest that this center is held together by four basic points of agreement.
First, it is fiscally conservative. It strongly supports a balanced budget -- not so much because of the economic consequences of large-scale debt but because of the irresponsibility such debt symbolizes. While it is true that a balanced budget will reduce interest rates and free up capital to enhance America's global competitiveness, the passion for fiscal responsibility really flows from people's adamant opposition to saddling their children with a $5 trillion debt.
Second, the passionate center is socially inclusive and protective of individual liberties. Most Americans are not racist or sexist. Increasing numbers accept homosexuality. Polls show, unsurprisingly, that most Democratic and independent women are pro-choice, but they also show that most Republican women are pro-choice as well.
Third, it is pro-environment. Where did anyone get the idea that Americans were so fed up with Federal regulations that they would want Congress to gut the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act? Or to open up wildlife refuges to oil companies? Or to support any of the myriad bonehead ideas of the last year? Most Americans, especially the young, see the environment as fundamental to their quality of life, as a legacy to be protected, not a place to be plundered for the profit of the few.
Fourth, the passionate center wants campaign finance reform. Americans are sickened by political action committees owning Congress and by "soft money" funds that evade campaign laws to benefit the very people who passed those laws. When President Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich shook hands in New Hampshire in June and agreed to strengthen campaign laws, most Americans doubted that they were serious. As the weak "reform" package passed by Congress shows, the skeptics were right.