The Magazine


Oct 2, 1995, Vol. 1, No. 03 • By DAVID BROOKS
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This is a time of such profound change that we need a dynamic center, that is not in the middle of what is left and right, but is way beyond it.

-- Bill Clinton

On September 1    in the Year of Our Lord 199   , I undertook a journey to the Land Beyond Left and Right. It was a long voyage, for I had to navigate past the Scylla of liberalism and the Charybdis of conservatism; steer" around what E. J. Dionne has called the False Choices; and traverse what Bill Bradley refers to as the To Familiar Ruts.

At each turn the Tired Old Libels sang to me in the seductive voice of the Siren, and I could have been sucked back, as an editorial in the Democratic Leadership Council's magazine warned, into "the ideological and interest group battles of the Industrial Era." But at long last I crossed the meridian into a new, post-Cold War/Information Age/Global Economy era that requires fresh approaches and new thinking.

I docked at the Land Beyond Left and Right and was confronted with a fan of roadways, all of them marked, "To the Center." The sun was shining, and everybody was sitting around watching Ken Bode's Washington Week in Review.$ N

Bill Clinton and Al Gore were there, having gained entry in tribute to the words that appeared in their 1992 book Putting People First: "Our policies are neither liberal nor conservative, neither Democratic nor Republican. They are new. They are different." There was a crew of Washington Monthly alumni, led by Dionne, whose book Why Americans Hate Politics described the shortcomings of the choice between left and right. The entire Democratic Leadership Council was there, circulating quickly to make themselves appear more numerous. In a special corner Colin Powell was holding court with the great post-ideological hopes of yesteryear: Senator Bradley, Gary Hart, and Michael Dukakis, the latter still mumbling that the real issue is "competence, not ideology."

The social scale of politics peaks in the center. And in these prestigious circles, there were no yahoos to be found. People who insist on adhering to liberalism or conservatism find themselves linked. Liberals have to worry about being embarrassed by Louis Farrakhan, while conservatives are tied to Pat Robertson's books.

But those who have taken up permanent residence in the Land Beyond are tied to no one. They sometimes call on those still clinging to the Tired Old Labels to repudiate their allies, but they themselves never have to repudiate anyone. They categorize others while remaining uncategorized.

Nonetheless, a traveler in their midst is tempted to make a few generalizatio ns. As a group, the Beyondists are reasonable and open-minded. Rarely motivated by personal animosities, they can be generous and fair with people on all sides . In a world in which to be liberal is politically untenable and to be conserva tive is socially unacceptable, it is a wonderful thing to be beyond left and right.

The Land Beyond is, in design, a practical place. Each issue is not just another front in a polarizing culture war. Instead, the Beyondists can begin each problem anew, forgetting bigger fights and getting down to an open exchange about the nitty gritty. "We need politics to deal with the things it is good at dealing with -- the practical matters like schools and roads, education and jobs," Dionne writes.

In the Land Beyond, many people are able to rise above politics and the tawdry partisan fray. Bill Bradley tolerated the muck of politics for as long as he could, but in August it became too much for him, and he announced his retirement from the Senate. When David Gergen went to join the Clinton White House, the president praised him for his "sense of patriotism that transcends partisanship." Beyondists recognize that both extremes contain a grain of truth and the best solution probably lies somewhere in between.

Nor are those Beyond trapped in the past. On the contrary: They understand we are living in an unprecedented age. In the New Democrat, the DLC magazine, Michael Rothschild notes that by the year 2000, 2 billion microchips will flow from factories every week. In the new information age, he says, the left-right divide "will seem as anachronistic as Checkpoint Charlie." In this new age, the argument" isn't over more government or less government; it's over better government.

The visitor can forgive himself for wondering if he hasn't discovered utopia: a place Where bright, open-minded people can be seen discussing issues in civil tones. The Land Beyond has the Sparkle of freshness, as old conventions are shed, and people look for new ideas to go with a new era.