Meet… The Levelheads

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They want low taxes and the government out of their personal lives

Texas populist Jim Hightower once said, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road except yellow stripes and dead armadillos.”

He was wrong.

The middle of the road is home to tens of millions of Americans, none yellow, none dead.

They simply don’t fit into the baggage that is “liberal” or “conservative.” Many are a hybrid of both: socially liberal, yet fiscally conservative.

They are across-the-aisle love children, inheriting Orrin Hatch’s love of shriveled taxes and Ted Kennedy’s bloated tolerance.

If motivated, these moderate-thinking folks would make an impressive bloc (their numbers are about the same as each party’s loyalists), yet they are virtually unrepresented in Washington.

The media ignore them, too, choosing instead to focus on the more exciting extremists on the left and the right.

The folks in the middle are so ignored, they don’t even have a moniker.

What do you call them?

Republicratitarians? Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

Libcons? Better, but still sounds like a compromise.

These are people who choose the best ideas from each party and leave the rest – like the folks who don’t eat pizza crusts, cherry-pick a box of chocolates and pick out only the beef pieces at the Chinese buffet. Maybe we should call them Anti-socialists.

Uh … maybe not.

They need a name that shows their pragmatism and civility. Perhaps they are …

The Levelheads.

A party is born.

What do they believe?

Stanford political science professor Morris Fiorina sees Levelheads as typical suburbanites.

“You are busy enough just getting kids to day care and school, getting home, getting dinner. You basically don’t worry about gun control, gay marriage and these sorts of issues,” says Fiorina, author of “Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America.”

“Basically you’re concerned about your job and your schools and your neighborhood and what kind of world your kids are growing up in, not these hot-button things that get so much press.”

Levelheads want their taxes to stay low, their schools to be good and government out of their lives. They are not pure libertarians, because they believe in the role of government, says Fiorina, but they are skeptical about too much of it.

Centrist majority

How many are out there?

On their Web site, The Advocates of Self-Government (theadvocates.org) offer the “World’s Smallest Political Quiz.” The 10-question test has been taken more than 6.6 million times since 1995.

The results: 18 percent scored as liberals, 8 percent conservatives and 66 percent centrist or libertarian.

Ted Carmines, political science professor at Indiana University, goes a bit further by breaking down the electorate into five roughly equal groups: consistent liberals; consistent conservatives; consistent centrists; populists (socially conservative/fiscally liberal); and libertarians, or Levelheads (socially liberal/fiscally conservative).

In other words, three out of five Americans are moderates, and one in five are Levelheads.

Why are they ignored?

The media and the politicians pay no mind to Levelheads.

“Quite frankly, it’s a political bent that scares the establishment,” says Rebecca Ryan, a Madison Wis.-based consultant who studies trends and generations, specifically Generation X, which is packed with Levelheads. “They don’t how to respond to it. It doesn’t cleanly fit into the category of an R or a D.”

For the media, now in the entertainment business, pragmatic Levelheads are no match for fiery partisans.

“Disagreement, division, polarization, battles and war make good copy. Agreement, consensus, moderation, compromise and peace do not,” Fiorina writes in his book.

For their part, Levelheads don’t seem to care.

“People in the center are reasonably content with the way things are,” says Fiorina. “They want government to be like electricity: You walk into a room, you flip the switch, and it goes on. You don’t want to think about it.”

That doesn’t mean Levelheads and other moderates can be pushed around. If the extremists get too far from the center, says Fiorina, the vacuum in the middle gets filled one way (third-party candidates such as Ross Perot) or another (party centrists such as Joe Lieberman or John McCain).

Imagine the hole in the middle in 2008 if noted liberal Hillary Clinton faces a strong conservative, say Sen. George Allen of Virginia, says Fiorina.

If that happens, expect level-headed moderates to vote for a third-party centrist.

Even if it’s a dead armadillo.

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John Campanelli is a reporter for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland. He can be contacted at jcampanelli@plaind.com.

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