Thursday, December 21, 2006

Centrism is What??

There are words out there that sound like they mean something, and this is one of them. Apparently it's supposed to mean a middle course something, I guess, inoffensive to most Americans. Let's see in practice how that works. Abortion - there's a middle here? Either you can tolerate the concept or you cannot, from there you might be able to work on details to mitigate the consequences of the act, but you cannot make it something other than what it is. Health care - either you are going to do something on a national scale or you are fine with the status quo, you are not going to find some magical middle, unless you define the status quo as the middle. Illegal immigration - here's the one that definitely calls out for magic - the centrist position is do something harmless, a non-existant solution. The war in Iraq - oh for pete's sake, we're going to stay or we're going to get out.

Centrism engages in magical thinking, nobody gets pissed except the lunatic fringes, there's a middle way, no harm no foul. What ever course of action is taken in any issue, a philosophical stance is applied first, then the details are worked out. The devil is in the details. There are those in the debates surrounding the Second Amendment who would argue that shoulder fired nukes would be included in the right to keep and bear and those who would argue that the Second only allows the government to be armed - neither has anything to do with the question, the details entail to what degree that right becomes universally and inevitably harmful to the rights of others and negates its philosophical value. There is no centrist position between banning individuals from the right to keep and bear and the recognition that the right exists.

There is no such thing as a centrist politician, not philosophically, either they have a belief or they do not, then the details get worked out. Bill Clinton is held up as a centrist on international trade, utter nonsense, there is either free trade or protection of a market/labor. Bill Clinton was a free trader and we have the results his philosophy. A market/labor protection philosophy would have included those concepts in any trade agreement.

Yes, details matter. The working of any policy involves details and being careful with the details to mitigate unforseen or even forseen consequences is intelligent. Get out of Iraq cannot involve a pell-mell dash for the border, but it also is completely different than an open-ended stay. There is a philosophical difference involved, and it involves staying or leaving, the "centrist" position of "later" is not a different position, it is the same thing as an open ended stay. Yes, you can say exactly the same thing with different words - Hillary and George II. They both throw "qualifiers" all through their statements and they mean exactly the same thing - an open ended stay - it just sounds different. That sound may be enough to assuage some who aren't paying attention, but it is meaningless. This is exactly why the President and Hillary want nothing to do with deadlines, they mean we're doing what we say we're doing, leaving. We have 130,000 troops in Iraq and multitudes of equipement and armament, if we start leaving, everybody is going to be able to figure it out.

I'm not saying there aren't reasonable, thoughtful, moderate applications of philosophy of action, that's the part that gets ignored. If a person believes that a national health plan is needed they have to recognize that the philosophy isn't the same as free market laisse faire health care, How they approach the doing of national health care is where there is a moderate approach to be taken, an extreme approach would be that any and all medical proceedures fall on the government, a more moderate approach would set defining limits. Neither one of these approaches is in any way similiar to a laisse faire approach, there is nothing centrist in the picture, it's a form of socialism, not capitalism.

Word do have meaning, spin meisters to the side, and we ignore those meanings at our peril. In politics the real meaning of centrist is no position other than the one that sells at the moment.


Pete Abel said...


Knowing your stand on guns, you might what to check out this "centrist" experiment, and comment.

The Manly Ferry said...


Just what the hell is it with this line of thinking lately?

Centrism means something fairly simple: it's not about "not offending" anyone. It's about accepting we live in a country comprised of citizens who hold different views - sometimes diametrically opposed views. While this doesn't mean that every issue has a middle ground, it also doesn't mean none of them do. By selecting the issues you chose - abortion, immigration, gun rights, etc. - you're rather unneccessarily limiting the scope of the discussion. Are those topics all we have to discuss? What about economics in the broad sense? Surely, there's a balance to be struck between outright free market (laissez-faire) and a centrally-planned economy - and that looks an awful lot like the regulated U.S. economy. The simple fact that no truly free market exists anywhere in the world argues that centrist thinking is already in play - especially in the States.

Even returning to the issues you chose, there are centrist positions: on abortion, the hardest to parse because the right itself is fundamental, this amounts to leaving them legal, but discouraging resort to the procedure either through education and social pressure (the "safe, legal, rare" formulation); on gun rights, one reaches centrism the second the discussion moves to licensing and registering, or even restricting the kinds of guns that can be owned; on immigration, are you seriously arguing that there's only an absolutely open or firmly closed border? We're in the center here by default and what is a guest-worker program, but a compromise to control the influx? With regard to Iraq, staying another three years is, by definition, in no way the same as an "open-ended commitment." And that doesn't even get into more general philosophic positions on foreign policy: expansionist, isolationist, encouraging multi-polarity, etc. - and that's before getting into specific relations with specific states.

I'd say centrism is more than merely real; it's the modus operandi of the nation - and that's by design. We lurch between the political polls, but there's ultimately, even inevitably, a correction.

Chuck Butcher said...

Cool, discussion. Discussion is how we reach a concensus. The means of accomplishing an end certainly can be moderate or the outcome of compromise. That is the general end of legislation since neither extreme ordinarily has sufficient support to just "have its way."

But, a moderate legislative end has to start somewhere, and that recognition is important. Either you do believe that govt, has a place in social "engineering" or you don't - ie C conservatives. I do not (for ex.) believe pure socialism works, but I approach the discussion from the stand point of govt interference, not a strictly limited govt. There is a vast difference between my starting point and the other and we will wind up in different places for different reasons even if we both decide on "moderate" means.

Most people don't even think about issues beyond the second they are impacted, some of us are activist enough to do it - you're here - and that is who I am addressing. "the manly ferry" has thought sufficiently about capitalism to note that laisse faire capitalism doesn't exist and that regulated economy has "won" and has no apparent problem with that, a free marketer would have a problem and be consistently working to reverse that trend, different starting points different results.

Hillary Clinton is held up as some kind of centrist, I'm dubious, not just because I doubt such a thing's existence, but because careful watching doesn't indicate a formative view on her part. I see a tendency to play the polls without regard to a starting point. I also don't like Hillary.