The Anti-Broder Center

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Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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  1. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Here is my problem with “centrism”.

    It’s 1770. What is the centrist position on Revolution against the British?
    It’s 1850. What is the centrist position on slavery?
    It’s 1900. What is the centrist position on women’s suffrage?
    It’s 1930. What is the centrist position on desegregation?
    It’s 1985. What is the centrist position on gay marriage?
    It’s 2002. What is the centrist position on Operation Iraqi Freedom?

    It’s 2010. What is the centrist position on the War in Afghanistan?Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Right. Which is why I think it’s appropriate to use it as a perjorative – but only when it’s being used to describe someone who has little to say on a given issue beyond “let’s do it, but let’s do it half-assed.” That the term is getting thrown around to describe people who take rather strong positions on any given issue but whose overall preferences don’t fit well within either of the two main camps is, well, bizarre. But given that the former group of centrists seem to have an abnormal amount of influence over the direction of the country, and there seems to be this tendency to throw the perjorative out at anyone who doesn’t easily fit on the linear conception of politics, maybe everyone would be better served if the latter group somehow managed to redefine what the “center” means.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mark Thompson
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        says:

        This may be where I am completely out of the loop but I have never seen “centrist” used as anything but a term that one uses for a moderate that one is fond of.

        A “moderate” is, of course, what you call a moderate that you aren’t fond of.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          It may depend on the circles in which one is travelling. I’ve seen the two words used more or less interchangeably. When the media talks about Republicans that the establishment likes, they use the word “moderate Republicans.” Meanwhile, when liberals used to go after Lieberman, they were pretty fond of “centrist” as a perjorative, and I’ve definitely been seeing it being thrown (by both sides) at just about anyone who is not a die-hard, Tea Partier or a proud liberal of late (although that may just be perceptions).

          But to me, the term has always implied a sort of crass triangulation that is unhinged from any underlying philosophy beyond figuring out the middle position on every given issue.Report

          • Avatar MadRocketScientist in reply to Mark Thompson
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            says:

            That depends on the person. I’m certain some are just wishy-washy, while others fit the liberal/conservative label depending on the issue. However, I would guess that most are just people who wish that others would seriously get over all their ideological bull and and start looking for a solution that works instead of one that fits the party line. Sometimes the best solution is to take a bit from the right, and a bit from the left, and combine them into a solution that no one is ideologically happy with, but that works.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to MadRocketScientist
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              says:

              “However, I would guess that most are just people who wish that others would seriously get over all their ideological bull and and start looking for a solution that works instead of one that fits the party line.”

              The problem is that there are also folks out there that claim that the solution that was attempted that the other people are saying failed only did not “work” because it had insuffient support.

              We needed more funding.
              We needed more volunteers.
              We needed fewer selfish people.

              So on and so forth. This solution *WOULD* have worked if only people like you weren’t WRECKING EVERYTHING.

              When you are working with people who refuse to acknowledge any level of funding/volunteerism or any lack of selfish folks that would result in a statement like “well, okay, maybe my fundamental assumptions were flawed”, this can manifest itself into a problem very much like the one we face today.Report

    • Avatar historystudent in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Very good post, Jaybird.

      There is the old saying, “the center will not hold.” The Bible also notes that the lukewarm will be spit out. Sometimes the “centrist” approach will not work.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to historystudent
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        says:

        Hrm…Curious about your thought on the main point of the dialogue, which is that there is a group of more or less unrepresented people who are deemed “centrists” but who are not “centrist” on any given issue.Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to Mark Thompson
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          says:

          I’m curious, too.

          Mike’s list of conservative voices:

          David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Megan McArdle, Rod Dreher, Daniel Larison, Reihan Salam

          that weren’t ‘wacko’ also strikes me as a list of centrists, or people who have the potential to frame a ‘centrist’ position. I’d add others, including Sullivan and many of the bloggers here.Report

        • Avatar historystudent in reply to Mark Thompson
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          says:

          “Where the Broderite centrists are centrists in the sense that on almost every issue, they will agree 50% with the movement liberals and 50% with the movement conservatives, the unrepresented centrists are centrists only in the sense that they will agree with liberal on about 1/3 of the issues, with conservatives on about another 1/3, and on the remaining 1/3 will agree with neither.”

          I would say that the above quote is ‘central” to my reaction. Obviously no one (or practically no one) will ever agree with another 100%. But those whose political beliefs cause them to agree with one fairly consistent “side” 50% or 33% of the time are bound to alienate those bases. Such a tendency can only induce disdain among the more cohesive “right” and “left” members. The fact is that anyone who expresses just a single political opinion that is anathema to someone else can earn their lasting disapproval even if the two might agree on just about every other major issue. Case in point: Lou Dobbs apparently just changed his mind on how to treat illegal immigration. Many of his previous supporters will now probably turn away even though he may be unchanged in his other beliefs. When a pundit or a politician is on “the opposite side” on some key issues, he will likely not be trusted by people on the other side even though he may share opinions with them too.

          As for centrists being unrepresented, perhaps that’s the nature of the beast because they swivel from side to side without uniformity and therefore cannot coalesce with each other? On the other hand, there is a recognition of the centrist/moderate “position” as a general category anyway….Report

          • Avatar historystudent in reply to historystudent
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            says:

            Just to add on a slightly different tack: when discussing the electorate that is “centrist” and therefore may consider itself unrepresented by the political platforms or the actual politicians in either major party, I would say they are in the same position as those on the fringes who also consider themselves unrepresented. What is happening in Washington is that both Republicans and Democrats in power are becoming a megaparty that rolls along, servicing the huge government (and globalist corporate) structures. Oh, of course there are differences and votes sometimes split along party lines, but no matter who is in elected power, the department, agencies, bureaus, and moneymen, etc. have a continuity and influence that trumps elections. The government is like King Kong — so big that politicians are are afraid not to feed it. It has a life of its own. It will resist at all costs being downsized. So, I’m not sure that centrists are any more deprived of political power than others. The megaparty is the servant of the the monster it created and continues to expand. That doesn’t leave a lot of space for listening to John and Jane Q. Public back home.

            Nevertheless, I would prefer that the Republican party returned to conservative values and left so-called liberal or progressive values to the Democrats. Then there would be clear difference and we could vote accordingly. Those who prefer to pick and choose form a smorgasboard from each side would eiher have to hold their nose and choose the side with which they feel most aligned or would have to see if they could field a third-party candidate who could differentiate him or herself enough from the tendency for any candidate to go to the center in the general election. It would be great if we could have three serious candidates who would represent right, middle, and left with integrity.Report

  2. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    Well I think you guys touched on it, but the biggest problem I have with these “centrists” is that they are far more establishment figures who pretend to be above the fray because of “faux neutrality” who try to find a position in between L’s and C’s. Broder especially can’t ever seem to bring himself to say one side may have more facts on their side. It is the attachment to their place in the establishment that leads Broder types to view everything as a political game and threw a tiny window of their self-defined conventional wisdom.Report

    • Avatar Jennifer in reply to greginak
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      says:

      Exactly. Broder has written, more than once, that a piece of legislation has to be good because people on both the right and left are unhappy about it. To me, this is the height of stupidity. The issue is what legislation will accomplish what it’s supposed to do for the betterment of the country, not compromise just for the hell of it, or to slap one or both bases down.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jennifer
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        says:

        Yes. When one’s political philosophy is predicated upon the answer to the question “Before I answer your question, what is everybody else saying?”, one can reasonably be expected to have nothing useful to say.Report

  3. Avatar Roque Nuevo
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    says:

    I hate to say so, but Jaybird nails it is fifty words or less: words like radical, , centrist, pragmatic, and even right and left are more useful for political demagoguery than political analysis. Example: Obama was know as a pragmatic , centrist during his campaign.Report

  4. Avatar zic
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    says:

    Perhaps the meaning of ‘centrist’ is changing into an alternative to ‘conservative,’ rapidly becoming a pejorative. The same happened to ‘progressive’ when ‘liberal’ also became a smear word.

    Politically, ‘centrist’ used to be pejorative, or so it seems to my feel of its use. But it also represented someone who voted bi-partisan; who’d abandon ship (yes, that’s bad) and vote with the other party. Maybe the second part, the ‘vote with the other party’ part has become more important. Politically, our nation needs to become less bi-polar and more bi-partisan. Politics is an analog art, like film and tape recording, not an on/off binary system. We forget that because there are only two ‘real’ political parties in this country and we vote things up or down. A spectrum of political philosophy, from Liberal to Progressive to Centrist to Conservative is okay by me.

    Language evolves to fit the need. I’m sure there’s a fancy word for this phenomena that now escapes me; I’d welcome it.Report

  5. Avatar Gold Star for Robot Boy
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    says:

    If I may make a callback here…
    Remember this summer when you invited Dan Riehl to take part in a debate about the future of American conservatism? I reacted to that news with a post that you may really REALLY want to re-think that invitation because Riehl is, to put it charitably, not a good person. My comment of warning got deleted, with Scott Payne declaring he was going to be extra-vigilant of ad hominem attacks.
    Well, we know how the debate went and where the “unfortunate fallout” – Scott’s words – fell. (Has Robert S. McCain ever issued a correction for saying Conor F. attended Columbia?)
    Well, the man LOOG invited over, let’s take a look at what he’s thinking: http://www.riehlworldview.com/carnivorous_conservative/2009/12/sullivan-stfu.html
    My warning was not an ad hominem attack – sometimes a bad person really is a bad person.Report

  6. Avatar Grunthos
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    says:

    “it’s difficult to believe that there isn’t a very significant contingent of people who don’t fit particularly well in either political coalition, but who also aren’t terribly big fans of what passes for centrism in the linear view of politics. This contingent is virtually ignored in large-scale politics, and winds up with little to no representation.”

    As a member of said contingent, I agree with most of your points here: it’s a larger group than political discussions give credit for, it’s almost completely unrepresented in national politics, and the political system would produce better outcomes if it recognized these things. As a (former) poli sci grad student, I would suggest that such a disenfranchised segment is inevitable in a stable two-party system, and I don’t think there is much we can do about that. The nature of ideology is that it will (for most political practitioners) substitute for thought rather than supplement thought; and the unthinking adherence to group partisanship, coupled with a bipolar ideological environment, will inevitably leave a significant (but usually powerless) “thoughtful” minority out in the cold.

    When the commentariat discussed Obama’s strong draw among “moderates”, what they generally failed to identify was Obama’s particular appeal to this disenfranchised group. I voted for him, despite my disagreements with his mainstream-liberal philosophies, because for once I was looking at a presidential candidate who wasn’t talking down to me, wasn’t spouting ideological bullshit like Old Faithful, and wasn’t captive to his party echo chamber. That was the first time I cast a vote for president. I’m 39 years old, well-educated, and politically aware. It took twenty goddamned years for the system to put a candidate out there who wasn’t a horrific lesser-of-two-weevils option.

    People ask me, “How can you not vote? One side must be better than the other.” It’s hard to get them to understand that, despite my political views being very non-radical, neither party is within 50 billion miles of promoting the policies and governance I could actually support, and neither party gives a good goddamn about my perspectives. I have no leverage, I have no voice, they don’t care, and I can’t be motivated to get out there and actually make a statement of support for an ideological asshole *every time* I go to the polls. So here we sit. Good luck finding a solution. I sure haven’t.Report

    • Avatar historystudent in reply to Grunthos
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      says:

      Mind if I ask what some of your political viewpoints are? In other words, how do you fit into the centrist camp? Just curious about what kind of policies would rev up your political enthusiasm.

      I voted for the libertarian candidate last time, although he didn’t entirely match my own views. But I was not about to vote for either McCain or Obama. Generally few candidates excite me either, but I have voted in every election since I turned eighteen. Given that there are rarely candidates I can totally support, I usually select the candidate I think would do the least harm.Report

    • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Grunthos
      Ignored
      says:

      But you did vote down-ticket, I hope? Even if it’s for third-party candidates (who often can have a real chance at the municipal level) or only in nonpartisan races, I really consider this far more important than voting for President.

      As someone active in local and state politics, I feel like we’re all way to focused on national politics, ignoring the fact that the county commission, state attorney, etc. have more influence over our day-to-day lives than Congress or the President. Unless you are in the military, anyway.Report

  7. Avatar Aaron
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    says:

    I love these discussions you guys have periodically. Would it be too much to ask for you to tag them separately than normal posts so readers can find them more easily?Report

  8. Avatar Dennis Sanders
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    says:

    I tend towards the Broderite centrists, and really take offense of how some conservatives or libertarians tend to view us with distaste. I think Broder gets looked on as some sad sack journalist of a bygone era, but it was under that era that things like civil rights and environmental protection were passed with bipartisan support.

    What I’ve appreciated about people like Snowe and Nelson is their approach to governing. Much the problem today is that we are stuck on ideology. They will not work with so-and-so because they are on the other side. I think people like Snowe, Collins and Nelson do have partisan beliefs, but are also willing to work with others to make legislation happen. It’s not as showy as being driven soley by partisan ideas, but I think it got a lot of things done.Report

    • Avatar Jennifer in reply to Dennis Sanders
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      says:

      But bipartisanship and centrism aren’t the same thing. Bipartisan coalitions came together to pass civil rights legislation, but those laws were unequivocally liberal ideas that were also moral and just. IMO, centrism is just finding an arbitrary middle position on an issue just so politicians can straddle both sides of the fence, whether or not the so-called middle position is the one that will provide the best result.

      The case in point is the stimulus bill. Madame Centrist from Maine insisted on larger tax cuts when more direct aid to state governments wold have had a more stimulative effect. I’m not inclined to respect somebody for taking a half-assed approach to fixing a serious problem because their position was “centrist.”Report

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