Presidents, Politics, and Moderation

Do Moderates Make the Best Presidents?

On June 18th the New America Foundation’s Next Social Contract Initiative held a book launch for Professor Gil Troy’s latest book, Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents. Professor Troy is a history professor at McGill University and a Visiting Scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. Frank Micciche, Deputy Director of the Next Social Contract, moderated the event. An MP3 audio recording can be downloaded below, while video is available at right.

Professor Troy spoke on the difficulties of pushing a moderate agenda in the current media climate. “Partisanship gets attention,” he said. Bloggers, networks and candidates who take a strong and decisive position get airtime. “It’s easy to get whipped into a partisan frenzy, much harder to take a breath,” Troy said.

But both prospective presidential nominees have offered at least a rhetoric of centrism. According to Troy, this is more important than people realize. Throughout history effective presidents have voiced a “lyrical centrism” which inspires people to get behind a candidate’s vision for the nation, even if they don’t agree with the candidate on all policy. Troy discussed some of the most effective presidents in our nation’s history--arguing that they were in fact “muscular moderates.”

George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were presidents who took action, but did so by navigating between factions. While many of these figures may seem radical in retrospect, given the climate of their time they were rational men who treaded carefully but steadily in line with their core convictions.

Bill Clinton seemed perfectly cast to be a successful moderate president. However, Troy cites his “spineless centrism” and poll-driven agenda as the reason for an unmemorable administration, at least as far as public policy is concerned. And George W. Bush, who had so ably rallied the country after 9/11, was a man of great conviction and little moderation in Troy’s view. He quotes one of Bush’s top campaign aides as saying that, in seeking reelection, they would not try to find new voters from among the political middle but would “rally the base”—successfully as it happened.

-Tyler Ibottson-Sindelar, Intern for the Next Social Contract Initiative

Location

New America Foundation
1630 Connecticut Ave, NW 7th Floor
Washington, DC, 20009
See map: Google Maps

Participants

Featured Speaker
  • Gil Troy
    Professor of History, McGill University
    Author, Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents
Moderator
  • Frank Micciche
    Deputy Director, Next Social Contract Initiative
    New America Foundation

Event Time and Location

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 - 1:15pm - 2:45pm