Mark Penn: Moderates can unite the country, while the extremes are tearing it apart

I am an unrepentant moderate. In a world of right, alt-right, left and Antifa, I remain in the center, even as we seem to be entering a period of ascendancy of the left in the Democratic Party, and a realignment of the Republican Party towards more conservative principles.

The funny thing is, most of the country has moderate views too.

Most people don’t support “Medicare for all” once they find out the price tag; nor are they for ending Medicare as we know it. They want affordable access to health insurance for everyone (including those with pre-existing conditions), and health care that is top quality, cost effective and innovative.


The majority of Americans oppose open borders, but are also against closing our borders. They want comprehensive immigration reform with strong borders and a path to citizenship for those who are here and willing to work for it.

Frustrated by gun violence, few Americans want people walking around our streets with assault weapons. But they also don’t want all guns to be confiscated. They favor sensible gun safety measures like better background checks, and for it to be illegal to sell a gun to someone under 21.

But you’d never know this from watching television or browsing the Internet, where only two strident poles of public opinion seem to exist.

We are a country with racism and discrimination just like every other country on Earth. But overwhelmingly, most Americans believe in the dream of equality and equal opportunity for all. We elected Barack Obama president, and I believe there will be a first woman president sooner rather than later.

Increasingly though, the politics of personal destruction and ferociousness in our political discourse have destroyed our ability to have civil discussions about differences of opinion. This new level of polarization has, ironically, brought more people on both sides out to vote, and turnout surged in the midterm elections. Despite the strong views that Americans hold about the direction of the country, overwhelming they want the two sides to compromise.

More than 70 percent of registered voters say they want members of Congress to compromise and get things done, rather than stick to their principles and create even more gridlock. “Compromise” may be a dirty word to partisans, but it is a golden word with the voters today. Watching President Donald Trump demand a wall, and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer say Trump will never, ever get it, is exactly what the voters don’t want. We elected them to figure it out.

Like most Americans, I am tired of the demonizing and name-calling on all sides. I opposed the government shutdowns and special counsels in the late 1990s, and I oppose them today. I think the Republicans in the House deserved to be fired – they couldn’t get anything done or agree amongst themselves. Democrats will now have a chance to do a better job for the people.

In just a few weeks, Nancy Pelosi will take over the speakership of the House, backed by the liberal and left wings of the Democratic Party. This is the same Nancy Pelosi who was no friend of the left for many years, and yet now is welcomed by it. She and Senator Schumer, both experienced politicians, have an opportunity to show a better way – to make the hard-won compromises necessary to solving the problems of immigration, infrastructure and health care. I expect them to bargain hard but ultimately find ways to move us forward.

Whether the Democratic leadership will do better than the Republicans remains to be seen. The Republicans had right and moderate factions that disagreed about everything. The Democrats now have a growing left caucus that can put the brakes on those who want to see action now over kicking the can down the road.

Whether run by Democrats or Republicans, the job approval of Congress has hovered around 20 percent. It is the least respected major political institution. I worry that the Democratic Party may be on an irreversible slide to the left and eventual electoral isolation, fueled by the enthusiasm of millennials who, like past generations, will moderate their views once they move on to the next stage of life. The Democrats’ new suburban supporters reject Donald Trump, but they are not supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., or Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

Everyone loves to hate moderates now, and yet it was moderates who decided the last midterm elections. They are the biggest political bloc in the country, and they deserve an America that reflects their views.