A generation ago what Jay and Stuart are calling “centrism” and what you are calling “centrist corporatism” would have been simply called “conservatism.” Two generations ago, what you are calling “the outright insanity of conservatism” would have been called fascism.
In FDR’s time, the far right of the political spectrum was fascist and the far left was communist; the center was what FDR called liberal. Now the political spectrum is between the Tea Party Republicans—fascist in all but name—and the liberals. Unsurprisingly, then, the center of debate in Congress is what Doug has called “centrist corporatism.”
We had, until recently, lost the far left of the political spectrum, and the moderate had been marginalized. The how and why of this are not entirely clear. The anti-union activism of Reagan and his successors was part of the story, as was the fall of the Soviet Union. Probably the imperial Presidency; the intense militarism of the Cold War period, which continues to this day; and the consolidation and politicization of the national news media that was enabled by Reagan-era policies also contributed
So a big part of the story was a successful reactionary movement that has emerged into politics as “centrism.”
And now Occupy, enabled by new technology, ideology, and vaguely Gandhian tactics, brings back left anarchism. It’s an astonishing development, and one which I only dimly foresaw. In stated policy Occupy is liberal: at the popular center. But in practice it is pure left anarchist. How this will play out in electoral politics—or if it will play out, or if it will be silenced for years to come—remains to be seen.
Thinking it over, I think I see the short-term triumph of centrism. Occupy has already shifted the terms of debate far enough that the radical right looks less credible and I think this will tell in the 2012 elections. But I do not see actual liberal, or even a bit further left, policies being adopted at the Federal level for some years to come. I've been predicting 2020 as the watershed year and this still seems plausible: it will take time to raise a new generation of liberal politicians and bring the Supreme Court back to the true center. But just possibly it will be faster: if the Obama administration, like that of LBJ, decides that it is best to side with the reformers. On the other hand, it could also be slower: the reactionaries are deeply entrenched and very wealthy.
How do we shift the balance? Can we?