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American politics oscillates between centrism and polarization.  Two straws in the wind suggest that centrism is coming back: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gerald Ford.

A hobbling (physically, anyway) Schwarzenegger said at his inauguration last week that centrist "does not mean watered down or warmed over, it means well-balanced and well-grounded."

In 2005, he said:

"Like Paul on the road to Damascus, I had an experience that opened my eyes.  And what was it that I saw? I saw that people, not just in California, but across the nation, were hungry for a new kind of politics -- a politics that looks beyond the old labels, the old ways, the old arguments."

Then there’s Gerald Ford.

Much of the funeral commentary fondly recalled his moderate policies and soothing, non-polarizing manner.  People haven’t looked back on the 70s that warmly for a long time – if ever.

This comes after an election that repudiated the Bush/Rove “fire up the base” strategy.

We see the oscillation back to centrism in the Presidential race, from Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama to Republicans Rudy Guliani and John McCain.

Still, some Republicans think the path to the nomination is from the right wing.  And John Edwards has set out the mirror-image strategy for the Democratic nomination.

Since 1980, these waves have come and gone:

  • Reagan’s hard-right polarization
  • Followed by George Herbert Walker Bush’s moderation (after his polarizing pulverizing of Michael Dukakis)
  • Followed by Clinton’s initial lurch to the left (Hillarycare) and Newt Gingrich’s Conservative Revolution
  • Followed by Clinton-Dick Morris triangulation
  • Followed by the polarization of impeachment
  • Followed by W’s promise to be a healer, not a divider, and our 9/11 unity
  • Followed by W’s deliberate polarizing over 9/11, which ended this November.

Now, are we done with polarization – or just ready for another round?

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