And New York, as it happens, is the ideal place to give birth to such a movement. This city’s spirit—clear-sighted, tough-minded, cosmopolitan, hardworking, good-humored, financially acute, tolerant, romantic—should infuse the party. Despite our lefty reputation, for a generation now this city’s governance has tended to be strikingly moderate, highly flexible rather than ideological or doctrinaire. While we have a consistent and overwhelming preference for Democratic presidential candidates, for 24 of the past 28 years the mayors we have elected—Koch, Giuliani, Bloomberg—have been emphatically independent-minded moderates whose official party labels have been flags of convenience. (And before them, there was John Lindsay—elected as a Republican and reelected as an independent before becoming an official Democrat in order to run for president.) Moreover, New York’s stealth-independent-party regime has worked: bankruptcy avoided, the subways air-conditioned and graffiti-free, crime miraculously down, the schools reorganized and beginning to improve.
We’re certainly not part of red-state America, but when push comes to shove we are really not blue in the D.C.–Cambridge–Berkeley–Santa Monica sense. We are, instead, like so much of the country, vividly purple. And so—for now—we’ll call our hypothetical new entity the Purple Party.
“Centrist” is a bit of a misnomer for the paradigm we envision, since that suggests an uninspired, uninspiring, have-it-both-ways, always-split-the-difference approach born entirely of political calculation. And that’s because one of the core values will be honesty. Not a preachy, goody-goody, I’ll-never-lie-to-you honesty of the Jimmy Carter type, but a worldly, full-throated and bracing candor. The moderation will often be immoderate in style and substance, rather than tediously middle-of-the-road. Pragmatism will be an animating party value—even when the most pragmatic approach to a given problem is radical.
Take health care. The U.S. system requires a complete overhaul, so that every American is covered, from birth to death, whether he is employed or self-employed or unemployed. What?!? Socialized medicine? Whatever. Half of our medical costs are already paid by government, and the per capita U.S. expenditure ($6,280 per year) is nearly twice what the Canadians and Europeans and Japanese pay—suggesting that we could afford to buy our way out of the customer-service problems that afflict other national health systems. Beyond the reformist virtues of justice and sanity, our party would make the true opportunity-society argument for government-guaranteed universal health coverage: Devoted as the Purple Party is to labor flexibility and entrepreneurialism, we want to make it as easy as possible for people to change jobs or quit to start their own businesses, and to do that we must break the weirdly neo-feudal, only-in-America link between one’s job and one’s medical care.
But the Purple Party wouldn’t use its populist, progressive positions on domestic issues like health to avoid talking about military policy, the way Democrats tend to do. We would declare straight out that, alas, the fight against Islamic jihadism must be a top-priority, long-term, and ruthless military, diplomatic, and cultural struggle.
We would be unapologetic in our support of a well-funded military and (depoliticized) intelligence apparatus, and the credible threat of force as a foreign policy tool. We would seldom accuse Democrats of being dupes and wimps or Republicans of being fearmongers and warmongers—but we would have the guts and the standing to do both.
And as we defend our country and civilization against apocalyptic religious fanatics for whom politics and religious belief are one and who consider America irredeemably heathen, we will be especially keen about adhering to the Founders’ (and, for that matter, Christ’s) ideal concerning the separation of religion and politics—to render to government the things that are its and to God the things that are his. Our party will enthusiastically embrace people of all religious beliefs, but we will never claim special divine virtue for our policies—we’ll leave that to the Pat Robertsons and Osama bin Ladens. Where to draw the line is mostly a matter of common sense. Public reminders to honor one’s parents and love one’s neighbor, and not to lie, steal, or commit adultery or murder? Fine. Genesis taught as science in public schools, and government cosmologists forced by their PR handlers to give a shout-out to creationism? No way. Kids who want to wear crucifixes or yarmulkes or head scarves to those same schools? Sure, why not? And so on.
Our new party will be highly moral (but never moralistic) as well as laissez-faire. In other words, the Purple Party will be both liberal and American in the old-fashioned senses.
So: Are you in?