A Shot Over the Bow of Centrism

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Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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  1. Avatar Murali
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    says:

    I was browsing through Salon and it seems that Salon seems much more anti-capitalist than usual. I remember a few years ago that Salon was left of center but not explicitly anti-capitalist. Perhaps it is the Sanders candidacy or perhaps some third factor but I seem to be seeing a much more explicitly anti-capitalist (or anti neo-liberal) left. Perhaps it is evidence of increased polarisation or perhaps it is just the last gasp of a dying breed of socialists or perhaps the internet does fish everything up. We’ll just have to wait and see won’t we?Report

  2. Avatar North
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    says:

    My off the cuff impression is that we’re kindof at max left-kook right now. The entire left wing of the Democratic alliance is trying to haul both candidates to the maximal left right now so the left-o-sphere is at a rolling boil.

    As for Salon, the less said the better.Report

    • Avatar Guy in reply to North
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      says:

      It looks to me more like the left is fissioning along the lines of social vs economic/class emphasis. The BLM folks vs the old school social dems a la Sanders, as it were. Meanwhile Clinton is a centrist-executive-type doing what’s necessary to win. (Not that that’s bad, mind you, I just don’t see her as being particularly leftish, just left-of-dead-center)

      It recalls the much-vaunted breaking of the three-legged-stool on the right circa 2006-8Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Guy
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        says:

        Depends on how you define “fissioning”. If you mean the two sides are pulling in different directions or different emphasis I’d agree with you. If you mean there’s a danger of a political split or something I’d disagree. The disagreements aren’t fierce enough.Report

        • Avatar nevermoor in reply to North
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          says:

          Agreed. I think a lot of us are feeling primary tension between Sanders (to whom I, at least, am more closely aligned on most issues where he diverges with Clinton) and Clinton (who is extremely talented, would be historic, is safer in the general, but has some baggage). I’m sure we aren’t going to have a party split when Clinton wins the primaries.Report

        • Avatar Guy in reply to North
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          says:

          I mean they’re pulling in different directions and, should the left collapse purely due to a doctrinal split (which the right is not in the process of doing, even if you do believe it’s collapsing), this will be that split.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Guy
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            says:

            Yes I think that’s about right and frankly it’s healthy.

            I wouldn’t say the right is collapsing, the Establishment Right has been merrily eating their seed corn with increasing severity for about 25 years and the Gods of the Copybook Headings are showing up with the bill.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Guy
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        says:

        I don’t think there are necessary super differences between BLM and Sanders. Is there any evidence that the BLM side is pro-wall street?Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Saul Degraw
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          says:

          The potential is there. I just read a piece I cant remember where (either Salon or Guardian) bemoaning the fact that feminism has ended up hitching itself to capitalism (e.g. lean in). The complaint was that gender parity could have been achieved in many ways, some more solidaristic others more individualistic and neoliberalish. It has turned out, however, that feminism developed in a way as to push for the second option. There is no particular reason why the same cannot happen for racial equality. Insofar as BLM is concerned with racial equality more generally, it seems that it is more likely to get political traction if it speaks capitalist language and hitches itself to capitalist goals than if it speaks socialist language and hitches itself to socialist goals.Report

        • Avatar Guy in reply to Saul Degraw
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          says:

          The BLM side does not favor Wall Street, but they do (as I understand things) object to anything that proposes to solve equality issues and does not explicitly address racial concerns. While the Sanders wing believes that economic solutions will naturally solve racial inequalities on economic lines, or are more important than race-focused solutions.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul Degraw
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          says:

          Saul — there’s considerable evidence showin’ that BLM’s prime constituency is pro-torture.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to North
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      says:

      So, max left means agreeing with most of Hubert Humphrey’s who was the most establishment Dem possible when it came to economics for most of the 50’s and 60’s policy and political goals? That’s depressing.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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        says:

        Well let’s face it, not much of even the feverent left seriously wants to, say, do away with capitalism or whatever. You poll your leftists and they’re not really looking to create a new socialist humankind or whatever they’re hoping more to get closer to Europe on safety nets and regulation (though somehow without the racism and unemployment). On economics at least we’ve moved pretty far away from that.
        So yeah, the left now is pretty far to the right of the left in the 1950’s and 60’s no matter what the idiot right wingers say.Report

  3. Avatar Morat20
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    says:

    The problem with “centrism” is that it’s often used in a weird way. For instance, it’s often used (as a self-descriptor) by people who might be quite conservative on some policies, and quite liberal on another. (Generally a split on economic policy and social policy).

    Being, for instance, in favor of a BBA and a flat-tax and ALSO in favor of gay marriage doesn’t exactly make you centrist.

    Then there’s “centrist” as a sort of pseudo-political party. There’s always someone out there willing to run for office in the firm belief that if he splits the baby right down the middle, a great silent majority will arise to back him. They never arrive. And in fact, those folks almost always run on much the same platform, and one that never struck me as even being all that middlish. It was mostly heavily economic/budgetary, with silence on any other issues.Report

    • Avatar pillsy in reply to Morat20
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      says:

      Yes, there’s a persistent sense that if you just cut benefits (to appeal to Republicans) and raise taxes (to appeal to Democrats) you’ll just be able to cruise into the Oval Office.Report

    • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Morat20
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      says:

      Don’t forget “centrism” in the beltway pundit sense, which means that every criticism must apply equally to both parties, every observation must be couched under a “center-right nation” observation, etc etc.Report

  4. Avatar Michael Cain
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    says:

    Let’s see if I can be obnoxious… centrism is what happens in the suburbs. The important fissures on the left can be described as tension between suburban liberals and the urban poor. On the right, between suburban conservatives and the rural poor. Control of everything from the Presidency down to state legislatures depends on winning in the suburbs.Report

  5. Avatar Kim
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    says:

    Black Lives Matter is centrist activism, pure and simple.
    They’re centrists (ConservaDems, to use Pew’s charming terminology), and they’re engaged.Report

  6. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    Morat raises a good point. Centrist is lazy because pollsters will take someone with a hash of positions and call them a moderate or centerist.

    I think the race to the center is largely dead in American politics. Rahm is playing from an old school playbook that no longer is popular with large and growing segments of the Demicratic base. Privitazation no longer is popular. He alienated the black base that elected him.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      The race to the center is dead, primarily because the Democratic Party has occupied that position and is already there and the GOP is currently not even trying to get there. It’s like the start gun sounded, one runner was already at the finish line and the other one ran in the other direction.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to North
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        says:

        Rahm’s issue is that he took things to far. I can’t think of any other Democrat that privatized government services with Rahm’s zeal. Also closing down the schools was bad.

        I would say there is more of a push left. “School reform” and charter schools have a bad taste for the Democratic base now.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw
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          says:

          For sure, Rahm very obviously went corporate which is a problem centrism makes Democratic pols especially vulnerable to.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to North
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            says:

            Other issues is that the Democratic base wants to catch up with Western Europe when it comes to things like paid leave and vacation. This is hard for centerists who want to give it to the base but don’t know how to fund said programs without putting off their donors and corporate Akerica.Report

            • Avatar pillsy in reply to Saul Degraw
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              says:

              I think that concern is a big part of it, but another is that the Democratic establishment has become committed to the premise that raising taxes on the “middle class”[1] is so toxic that the Dems must never, ever do it. Sanders rejects this, and that drives a lot of the policy differences between the Clinton and Sanders camp.

              [1] Which somehow wound up being households making less than $250K/year. Maybe that is a donor base issue….Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to pillsy
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                says:

                HRC clearly doesn’t want to alienate the upper middle class base of the Party.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to pillsy
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                says:

                Not just a donor base issue. It’s a media and perception issue. The young professional policy wonks, the media mouthpieces and the party actors make money in those ranges. So cynically they don’t want to gore those peoples oxes and non-cynically they think of those people (aka themselves) as middle class.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
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              says:

              Funding isn’t the only issue. Paid leave and mandatory paid vacations also impose obligations on corporations that they do not want.Report

        • Avatar notme in reply to Saul Degraw
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          says:

          Why should Rham leave underperforming or under utilized schools open? As much as I dislike him, I’m glad he stood up to the teachers.Report

  7. Avatar DensityDuck
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    says:

    I’d say it happened when people started insisting on litmus tests that determine whether we’re a Democrat (and therefore agree with them) or a Republican (and therefore can be safely hated, mocked, and ignored.)Report

  8. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    To liberals, “Centrist” generally means “I gave up my principles and took the money”. Let’s not pretend that most political battles are won by anyone besides the lobbyists.Report

  9. Avatar Stillwater
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    says:

    It is believed by many that Centrism is the ideology of people who feel a compulsion towards compromise.

    I think the term “centrism”, in our current discourse, picks out the group of people and policies that aren’t ideologically absolutist, actually. So it doesn’t strike me as being defined as a compulsion or willingness to compromise, but more the absence of ideological extremism.

    Adding: Emmanuel isn’t a centrist, he’s a combination of corrupt and incompetent.Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    “If you want government to intervene domestically, you’re a liberal. If you want government to intervene overseas, you’re a conservative. If you want government to intervene everywhere, you’re a moderate. If you don’t want government to intervene anywhere, you’re an extremist.”
    — Joseph SobranReport

    • Avatar Damon in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      And this is why I use “statist”. It cuts through the “noise” of sides and clearly reveals that there is no real difference between the two “sides”.

      “If you want government to intervene domestically, you’re a statist. If you want government to intervene overseas, you’re a statist. If you want government to intervene everywhere, you’re a statist. If you don’t want government to intervene anywhere, you’re an extremist.”Report

  11. Avatar Will H.
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    says:

    We’ve been over this before, but I believe the view of centrism is essentially a strawman.
    Not only does it assume that party-level politics are determinative, but there is an underlying presumption that parties are even relevant; when, in fact, they are not in much of politics.

    For example, say I work for a lobbying firm, and there is a client, a collection of local retail grocers, whose account I am working.
    Is this politics?
    Is this conservative or liberal? Republican or Democrat?

    Secondly, the insistence that there are only two ways of viewing the world is a false dichotomy.
    Frankly, I find it somewhat disturbing that no one among this group has called you out on that point by now.
    We can say that “Everything si made of either wood or stone,” and then struggle to fit everything into those two just as well.Report

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