Sowell offers a history lesson

Thomas Sowell invokes within the latest column the old saying that we should “learn the lessons of history.”

Talk show host Michael Medved?, for example, apparently thinks the Republicans need a centrist presidential candidate in 2012. He said, “Most political battles are won by seizing the center.” Moreover, he added: “Anyone who believes otherwise ignores the electoral experience of the last 50 years.”

But just when did Ronald Reagan?, with his two landslide election victories, “seize the center”? For that matter, when did Franklin D. Roosevelt, with a record four consecutive presidential election victories, “seize the center”?

There have been a long string of Republican presidential candidates who seized the center — and lost elections. Thomas E. Dewey, for example, seized the center against Harry Truman? in 1948. Even though Truman was so unpopular at the outset that the “New Republic” magazine urged him not to run, and polls consistently had Dewey ahead, Truman clearly stood for something — and for months he battled for what he stood for.

That turned out to be enough to beat Dewey, who simply stood in the center.

It is very doubtful that most of the people who voted for Harry Truman agreed with him on all the things he stood for. But they knew he stood for something, and they agreed with enough of it to put him back in the White House.

It is equally doubtful that most of the people who voted for Ronald Reagan in his two landslide victories agreed with all his positions. But they agreed with enough of them to put him in the White House to replace Jimmy Carter?, who stood in the center, even if it was only a center of confusion.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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