Rethinking Centrism

The American Family Gazette

Volume I, 0907

 

Centrists and centrism.  It’s interesting how frequently we throw around these terms. Generally in politics these are thought of as adhering to a middle-of-the-road position, neither left nor right; as the political philosophy of avoiding the extremes of ideology.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s that simple.

While pondering this subject last year, I had difficulty agreeing with myself about the nature of the concept of centrism. I finally concluded that the concept, politically speaking, is largely an illusion. It’s primarily a concept employed for campaign purposes. Someone has said,”The appearance of being a centrist is the most pragmatic way to gain and hold on to power by appealing to as many different groups as possible without necessarily believing in any particular principle espoused by each group.” I believe that’s largely the case.  However, after the election, governing by such a position in as pluralistic society as ours is simply not possible. Ideology aside, it would amount to pleasing all of the people all of the time. The likely result of such an attempt would be stalemate, or fence sitting on almost all issues of a general nature. That seems hardly an improvement over our current highly ideological approach, which itself tends to result in stalemate and a perpetuation of the status quo.

A common understanding of a centrist is a moderate.  This appears to be in line with the preferred definition a friend recently provided: the need to do something (leftist initiatives) . . . but not too much (rightist resistance).  I support the concept while being skeptical of the possibility.  On individual issues, it may be possible, but as a political philosophy, it seems too subjective. For some issues, there appears no “middle ground.” It is on just such issues where I feel the concept of utilitarianism is most useful.

Another friend commented that the above definition of a centrist fits his Blue Dog Democrats.  I agree, It might, But in not just a few instances, considering the political environment (and districts) in which these politicians ran for office in the past couple of election cycles, I suspect we have more than just a few wolfs in sheepskin cover at the moment. Said differently, their impulse-leftist-initiative may be considerably weaker than their rightist-resistance to change.  That makes them conservative centrists.  Hummm?

Then there is centrism of the Democratic Leadership council (DLC) variety.  Liberals/Progressives deplore it as special (conservative) interest politics. The Council defends it as an appropriate form of politics to placate a special- interest group believed vital to winning elections for Democrats.  At least they agree with the definition of Centrism in my first paragraph.  And in truth, it might well be, but that doesn’t sit well with most leftists/liberals/progressives.  It tests the boundaries between Democrats and Republicans.

So, my conclusion is political centrism, akin to political bipartisanship, is largely a myth.  Sounds good, would be good if it was possible, but under normal conditions, it simply isn’t. But as people understand it, and would like to believe it possible, it’s politically helpful in trying to establish oneself with the largest possible electorate.

 But having said this, I do not, obviously, rule out the existence of “moderates”, although in today’s political environment, they (elected officials) are difficult to detect in any significant numbers.

There is a political area where centrism has a more rooted—even partisan— meaning.

The term “radical center” or “radical middle” (per Wikipedia) describes a third-way philosophy as well as an associated political movement. The application of this philosophy/politics is reflected in the goals of various radical centrist groups—that’s how they’re referred to—which upon review seem to want to combine the progressiveness of liberals and the tradition and moral choices associated with conservatives.  This is sometimes referred to as a “third-way” in politics. Again, my friend’s definition of a centrist comes readily to mind, but in a moderate position on both sides.   Here, however, it does not appear to be a moderate approach

I’m not overly familiar with this/these political group(s).  At most I can say that they appear, like me, to believe that something other than the usual bipolar conservative to liberal understanding is necessary to cause politics to deliver government that can govern for (at least) most of the people all the time, and all of the people at least most of the time.  I certainly don’t think this is the situation currently.

And before I ride off into the sunset here, a comment about my friend’s further observation that “a centrist may be someone who simply wishes to spend life in peace and quiet (lots of luck).”  I couldn’t agree with him more!

In my mind, politically this really defines most Americans, so called centrists or other.  The vast majority of us are not extremists, I am convinced; we do prefer to spend life in relative peace and quiet. To the degree possible, we yearn for domestic political tranquility, or if this is not possible, then reasonable civility and accommodating intentions towards those whose views may not closely parallel your own. It’s not always an issue of right or wrong. Respect the concept of majority rule combined with the observation of reasonable minority rights.  This means politics and the government it delivers that does not divide, does not position its agenda as being either with us or against us; that does not carry on in our Capital such that every day the headlines stress the negative. We the people want exactly what the constitution strives to deliver: Government that establishes justice, insures domestic tranquility, promotes the general welfare, provides for the common defense and attempts to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. If, as I suggested to my friend, definition is half the problem, then let’s get together and agree on meanings here.  

 In my view this means politics that can deliver a government that governs for (at least) most of the people all of the time, and for all of the people at least most of the time. If someone has an alternative definition, I’m open to listen to and consider it.

Is that too much to ask?

TRH
10/09

 

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