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Center of What?


Others have already expressed their opinion on this post by Kevin Drum, including Digby, Atrios and Ezra Klein, so I'll add my two cents:

I hope the liberal blogosphere doesn't get into the habit of automatically trashing centrist positions simply out of pique against some of centrism's more annoying practitioners. After all, trying to govern solely via populist intuition won't work any better than relying on a bunch of blue ribbon commissions.

I like Kevin Drum, and if I called up Central Casting and said "send down a Centrist" he'd be the guy they'd dispatch.  Reasonable, dad-like, a thoughtful guy who speaks in measured tones and would not look at all ill-suited riding a lawn mower.  But these are largely aesthetic considerations, and by-in-large I think it is on this basis that the moniker "centrist" is handed out.  And those who considers themselves thoughtful and reasonable assume that they are in the "center" of all things and that other thoughtful, reasonable people should agree with them and are likewise going to be "centrists."

In fact "centrism" is not antithetical to populism, and both are, in pure abstract terms, measurements. If an axis of opinion can be established with two discernable poles, then your opinion is "centrist" if there are equal numbers of those who stand to one side of you as another.  If more people feel their interests lie on one side of the spectrum rather than another, it is generally assumed to have a populist base of support (as I believe Kevin is using the term here, contra elite "blue ribbon commissions").  And as Atrios notes, imposing a right/left dichotomy on most issues thus abstracted is both awkward and frequently misleading.

I don't think I've ever rejected a position simply because it was "centrist," it would be like having a problem with long division.  Rather, I get a bit irked with the smug certainty of pundits and politicians who think the wisdom of their position should be respected because it is "centrist" when they have not in fact established that such a measurement is applicable, or why (if it is) this should lead to some knee-jerk assumption of validity. 

If you were a big war hawk in 2002, you could rightfully be called a "centrist."  Holding that same opinion today, as the High Priests of "bipartisan centrism" St. John McCain and Joe Lieberman do, places you on the extreme margins of public opinion and can by no definition reasonably be considered "centrist."   As those of us who at the time of the invasion thought it was the pinnacle of stupidity are probably quick to remind everyone, the "centrism" of this hawkish position did not bestow upon it any kind of sagacity, no matter how much the "we were right to be wrong" crowd want to truss it up.  The ability of most of the people to be fooled some of the time lends remarkably little honest intellectual cover to those who might seek safety in numbers.

Likewise, those of us who have made our bones bucking against what was considered to be what "most people thought" for the past six years are probably unlikely to accept it as any sort of measurement of wisdom.  If the majority of people in the country approve of freedom of choice, and most of the people in the Democratic party feel likewise, I think there is a strong argument to be made that adopting it as a core Democratic value will not send people scurrying out the door.  No more and no less.  That does not make it defacto "right" any more than it would make it defacto "wrong" if we suddenly woke up tomorrow in Nicarauga.

Aesthetics are not metrics.  John McCain's ability to laugh casually and tell a good joke on the Daily Show does not mean he is not morphing into a cynical right-wing wacko before our eyes.  And those who want to invoke the "centrism" of their ideas are going to have to try a little harder to establish both that they are, and why we should care.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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