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America’s political center has disappeared

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Dear Dr. Freud: I regret to ask for any of your time when you are taking such a long-deserved rest on your venerable couch up there on Cloud Nine, but I fear that you are the only one who can help me at this moment in history. In fact, I have come to you with a very serious case. And with your keen Viennese insight, you have already guessed it: The first part of the case is me!

Look, please, at only three of the many such insolent letters I have received recently because of the stances I have taken in my column against the Iraq war in particular and the foreign policy of the Bush administration in general.

Michael from Portland, Ore., writes: "You obviously are a liberal Democrat, programmed to not only distrust anything uttered by a Republican but to automatically launch into some kind of distortion of the facts to prove that those vile Republicans are wrong in their thinking and in their actions."

Hal, who identifies himself as an "81-year-old mossback who fought in the Battle of the Bulge," writes that "the naive, finger-biting posture of you peaceniks is deplorable. As Patton once said to young, scared troops, to 'remember, that when you bury your head in the sand . . . '" Then he goes on to say that if you do that, well, SOMETHING will get shot off! (I necessarily paraphrase.)

Finally, there is the lady who wrote to me saying that I was beginning to sound like the New York Times' sassy Maureen Dowd. She had stopped reading Maureen and told me, "You can be next!" Terror gripped me.

I bring all of this to your attention, good Dr. Freud, because (1) until the past year and a half I have been getting similar letters but all accusing me of being some &?!% conservative or &!$? antediluvian swamp creature that should be put out of her misery, and (2) I believe that what I am experiencing in my own personal and political life these days has its parallel in the politics of the nation.

Even a decade or so ago, surely you remember, we had some clarity and definition in our political, social and, yes, even psychological lives. Democrats were an amalgam of the working classes and unions, of the Southern Dixiecrats and of the New Deal liberal intellectuals and idealists. Republicans tended to represent the propertied and capitalist classes, the small-business owner and an activist internationalist class called "the Establishment." And today?

Many of the neoconservatives around President Bush seem at first glance to be on the far right — but, in fact, many of them came originally from the far left (the Irving Kristol group, for instance), and some see echoes of the "Trotskyite Internationale" in their "democracy international," which is also sometimes called "democratic bolshevism." Others in the group have written with favor about Italian fascism, while still other administration leaders, formerly thought of as quintessentially conservative men of traditional Middle America and its values, now are gathering, Napoleon-like, hands tucked theatrically into their lapels, around the new American Empire.

(Meanwhile, Pat Buchanan comes out looking almost like an old-time liberal. Take a look at his excellent new magazine, The Conservative, and you'll see where the neoconservative-conservative fight is brewing.)

But the Democrats are no less confused and confusing. We are indeed living in odd times when Jimmy Carter has become the major American pragmatist on the world stage, when a newcomer to national politics, Howard Dean, is capturing the imagination of the true old liberals, when Robert Byrd has become the most eloquent speaker in Congress, and when Al Sharpton is wearing a suit. (The Clintons, at least, seem to be behaving according to form, which, when you think about it, is rather comforting.)

What happened was that the Democrats were taken over by their radical wing in the '70s and '80s, and that wing — essentially leftist multiculturalism and political correctness — finally came to power in the '90s with the Clintons. In 2000, Americans brought George W. Bush to the presidency, thinking they were rejecting President Clinton's raging multiculturalism but actually getting an uninformed president who was soon taken over by the radical neoconservative wing of the Republicans, which is where we are today.

Behind all of these changes, too, were profound transformations in America's three major religions. The Protestants' mainstream churches that had been the base of the first President Bush all but faded away, giving way to the rise of the evangelicals who support his son on world domination, particularly in the Holy Land. The Roman Catholic Church, which could have filled that void nationally in political terms, became enmeshed in its own unfortunate priestly scandals. And the traditional liberal Jewish Americans who could have moderated American policies toward the Middle East were silenced by the hold of Israel's right-wing Likud party over most American Jewish organizations.

Somehow, Dr. Freud, I got caught up in the middle of all that. I realize you will think I am a serious case indeed when I tell you that I think that I — like many Americans — have stayed pretty much in the same place as I always was. I'm a pragmatic analyst who hates radical ideologies and believes in sensible, organic, evolutionary change. I'm an idealist, because idealism can work, but not a utopian, because utopianism never works. I believe in mankind's capacities to grow and change and progress, if only we halt the spread of violence that always inexorably sets back human development.

I believe passionately in the center. The problem is, there isn't much of one anymore. Thanks for listening. It really helped.

Yours truly, Georgie Anne Geyer

Universal Press Syndicate