It’s Not About Centrism, It’s About Moderation

Let me first take the time to thank Pamela for giving me the opportunity to write some guest posts for one of the best progressive blogs in the blogosphere. I greatly appreciate it and I hope that, by posting a bit here, I can help Pamela out. Congratulations with the graduation of your daughter!

Secondly, there were some things that happened recently, I will not comment on them. What happened happened, I hold no grudges to anyone (mostly because I simply do not quite care what other people write).

Thirdly, you all might be in for somewhat of a surprise. I know that the readers of and commenters at The Democratic Daily are an open-minded bunch… but I am afraid that I might just stretch that open-mindedness to the limit: I am not exactly a progressive. I am what we in the Netherlands call a conservative liberal. This means that I tend to side with the US on most issues, and favor a hawkish foreign policy and greatly value economic freedom. A fiscal conservative, a foreign policy hawk, and a social moderate – that summarizes my views quite adequately.

Fourthly, let me apologize in advance for any errors in spelling or grammar I might (will) make. English is not my first language.

Enough about me, lets talk politics.

E.J. Dionne wrote quite an interesting column for the Washington Post. E.J. writes:

We have become political hypochondriacs. We seem eager to declare that “the system” has come down with some dread disease, to proclaim that an ideological “center” blessed by the heavens no longer exists, and woe unto us. An imperfect immigration bill is pulled from the Senate floor, and you’d think the Capitol dome had caved in.

It’s all nonsense, but it is not harmless nonsense. The tendency to blame the system is a convenient way of leaving no one accountable. Those who offer this argument can sound sage without having to grapple with the specifics of any piece of legislation. There is the unspoken assumption that wisdom always lies in the political middle, no matter how unsavory the recipe served up by a given group of self-proclaimed centrists might be.

And when Republicans and Democrats are battling each other with particular ferocity, there is always a call for the appearance of an above-the-battle savior who will seize the presidency as an independent. This messiah, it is said, will transcend such “petty” concerns as philosophy or ideology.

Finally, those who attack the system don’t actually want to change it much…

So, why is it that America does not seem to be able to reach a consensus on certain important issues, say like Social Welfare?

The simple truth is that a majority of Americans (I’m one of them) came to oppose Bush’s privatization ideas. That reflected both a principled stand and a practical judgment. From our perspective, a proposal to cut benefits and create private accounts was radical, not centrist.

An authentically “centrist” solution to this problem would involve some modest benefit cuts and some modest tax increases. It will happen someday. But for now, conservatives don’t want to support any tax increases. I think the conservatives are wrong, and they’d argue that they’re principled. What we have here is a political disagreement, not a system problem. We have these things called elections to settle political disagreements.

It is a thought provoking column for everyone, I assume, but especially for someone like me who is an assistant editor at The Moderate Voice.

As an outsider looking in, I cannot help but feel that the American political system is so incredibly divided, that I see no hope of reconciling the two sides, unless some moderate person stands up and wins the presidency.

Centrists are often pragmatically driven, progressives and conservatives are – on the other hand – more ideologically driven. That being said, when discussing this issue, one always has to remember that conservatives and progressives believe that their views aren’t just ‘ideologically sound’ but that they also make sense in the real world and will ‘work.’

In other words, Centrists praise themselves as being pragmatical (which they certainly are), but ideologues are not per definition completely impragmaticle.

I purposefully called the ideal candidate a “moderate person,” not a Centrist. It seems to me that the real art of politics is that one is able to work with the other side on specific issues, even when one strongly disagrees with that ‘other side’ on the far majority of issues.

In the end, that is what moderation is all about: one might adhere to one ideology or another, but one is not blinded by that ideology. One understands that ‘the other side’ has something useful to say as well and that, although one can passionately agree, one should not villify one’s opponents.

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6 Responses to It’s Not About Centrism, It’s About Moderation

  1. Welcome aboard Michael. Fine post, and I agree.

    “Moderation in all things, including moderation,” which is called the Middle Way in Buddhism, and “The Golden Mean,” in the West, but, seemingly — at least in the USA — has been replaced by “Mean About The Gold.”

    🙂

  2. Darrell Prows says:

    Consider this: Dr. Laura Schlesinger is a talented person who does some good work when she remembers that she’s a counselor. However, in a snippet of her radio show today she said that all who oppose allowing military recruiters on school grounds are “traitors”, and that she chose that term deliberately. A traitor is a person guilty of treason and the punishment for treason is death. If they want to kill us, and we don’t want to die, that doesn’t leave a hell of alot of room for compromise. They call it “The Culture War” for a reason, and it becomes no less a war just because the folks on the right are the only ones fighting it.

    How do you compromise away the fact that we’re all human? How do you compromise away the fact that some rights truly are inalienable?

    The right wing will not meet us at that place to begin the discussion, and it is because of that that is not wrong to say that the system is broken.

  3. Ginny Cotts says:

    Michael,

    Thanks for highlighting that column. I agree with the moderation concept strongly – especially the Buddhist take on it 🙂

    Thom Hartman on Air America is pushing the idea that the process of government for the people,… depends on the people being involved, continuously, not just for a few weeks around elections.

    I had been arguing for some time that the people running both major parties are the most ideological, which results in candidates that are more suitable to them than the public, or most importantly, doing the job.

    Until more moderates of both parties get involved, the Lauras, Anns and others of that unapproachable mindset will hold the microphones.

    My bumper sticker says:

    GET INVOLVED.
    The world is run by the people who show up

  4. Michael

    First it’s freeing to lurk and not write so much, thank you for this. It’s also a little tough to leave the sphere when I’m not away from home/work but I’m trying.

    Both you and EJ Dionne make some great points. I often argued during the ’04 election that there are more moderates in the country than liberals or conservatives. We need to have a dialogue and be open-minded and tolerant.

    You’re off to an awesome start here! I’m heading out with my teen now…

  5. Michaelvdg says:

    Sorry for the late response to y’all’s comments: time difference.

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Hart (is that your real name by the way? Do you know that ‘hart’ is Dutch for heart?):

    “Moderation in all things, including moderation,” which is called the Middle Way in Buddhism, and “The Golden Mean,” in the West, but, seemingly — at least in the USA — has been replaced by “Mean About The Gold.”

    Very true. It is quite a sad thing of course, considering Pamela’s comment (about most Americans being moderate). I think so as well – note, not Centrists, but moderates. They are willing to compromise, they are willing to work with the other side, etc.

    The uberpartisan nature of the political debate in the US has another result: I get the impression that most Americans are turned off by anything political.

    Consider this: Dr. Laura Schlesinger is a talented person who does some good work when she remembers that she’s a counselor. However, in a snippet of her radio show today she said that all who oppose allowing military recruiters on school grounds are “traitors”, and that she chose that term deliberately.

    That’s a despicable thing to say and conservatives should say so. They should make very clear that they do not want to be associated with such a person.

    You know – a lot of progressives strongly disagree with William F. Buckley Jr. on virtually everything. But it is my experience that the far majority of progressives do respect him.

    Conservatives should look at Buckley’s way of debating.

    The “they do it, so we have to do it too”-approach isn’t one I agree with. I think it is silly. Sure – when one politician attacks the other the other has to respond. But with civilians it is an entirely different matter.

    For one thing: the problem is that people like me have an excuse to attack progressives as well. I have been called a Nazi, anti-Arab, Islamophobe (Which is quite funny considering the religion of my girlfriend), etc.

    Ginny: great comment. You are completely right.

    Thom Hartman on Air America is pushing the idea that the process of government for the people,… depends on the people being involved, continuously, not just for a few weeks around elections.

    Yes. Citizenship, being a citizen, is about more than making money, taking care of your family, and voting once every, say, two years.

    Also – is it any wonder that America’s system is broken if only 50% of the ones eligable to vote care enough to show up on election day?

  6. Darrell Prows says:

    The modreates see the two sides fighting, want nothing to do with it, and just stay home. At least I’ve heard that expressed a number of times.