Monday, April 09, 2012


In response to Paul Krugman's latest column, Ed Kilgore has written a post arguing that progressives would do well not to sneer at centrism:

But to just regular folks out there -- particularly the 35-45% of Americans identifying themselves as "moderates" -- there's some value in the brand, implying as it does a certain degree of reasonableness and perhaps even unpredictability.

... By all rights, the "centrist" brand should belong to the Donkey Party right now -- [if] it wants it -- because it has been so decisively abandoned by the party of Paul Ryan. It's better to police membership in the centrist camp than to burn it down.

Doug J adds, referencing David Brooks:

I hate it when people call themselves "centrists" and wank about liking ideas from both parties, but, voters like that shit, and Kilgore is probably right that the trick here is not to allow people like Bobo to pretend that they're "centrist" when they're really far right.

Here's my two cents: The problem isn't centrism per se, it's the ability of the far-rightists to drag the location of "dead center" far to the right. The best way to combat that tendency would be to pull the center back toward the left. I don't know if that's politically feasible in this country anymore, but if it is, it would involve restoring certain truly liberal ideas to within-the-pale status -- progressive taxation, Keynesian economics, serious regulation of financial markets, infrastructure spending, the union movement, established climate science, gun control -- while working to make other progressive ideas thinkable (single-payer health care comes to mind; feel free to add your own).

A lot of people in the center have no idea that the center has moved significantly in their lifetimes; they don't know, for instance, that the top tax rates we had through most of the Reagan era were vastly higher than the ones that infuriated congressional Republicans when Bill Clinton got them and, later, when Barack Obama asked for their restoration. Make true liberalism thinkable and you'd make the center truly centrist -- and a lot of centrism admirers would happily go long. I just don't know how you'd achieve that "Make true liberalism thinkable" bit.


Distortion not Noise said...

Finally someone says it. The center has been skewed so far to the right for so long, no one remembers what the center really is! Anf the hell with centrism. Progressive ideals shouldn't be watered down just to appear reasonable. Progressive ideals actually would benefit many of the people who eschew such ideals because they have been dumbed down by years of Faux news and Rushbo.

BH said...

No argument, but... how do you get the people who've dumbed themselves down to vote in their own interests again? If they don't vote for candidates who espouse prog ideals, then the prog ideals remain ideals only. We have to find a way to get past the classic 'noble loser' paradigm. Unelected candidates don't manage to accomplish much.

Erik A. Prince said...

I've generally thought of 'Centrist' as being more about being in between ideological extremes, than between the political parties. Which is why my 'Centrism' has become much more Liberal over the years as the political center slid more to the right.

It's an odd thing to watch the political debate slide past you in such a short span of time.

Anonymous said...

Is "liking ideas from both parties" what it means to be centrist?

Heck, that's me. That's my wife. That's probably everybody.

But not necessarily the same ideas from both parties.

So "centrist" does not describe a single agenda but the collection of all mixed agendas, some from column A and some from column B.

And that's why being told someone is a determined centrist tells you a lot less than being told he's a staunch conservative or a firm liberal.

Pretty much nothing useful, really.

And, anyway, it's pretty much a con and the people who say they are about centrism are actually on the right at least on the class war stuff.