Hello Attackerman readers, and thanks to Spencer for letting me hang out here for a few days. It’s always a pleasure.

While Tom Friedman’s reading of the Tea Party Movement is hilariously wrong — a movement of GOP stalwarts isn’t going to embrace anything “green” — it isn’t the worst thing about his column today in the New York Times. Those honors belong to this passage, where he extolls the “radical centrism” of Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman:

Yes, I know, dream on. The Tea Party is heading to the hard libertarian right and would never support an energy bill that puts a fee on carbon.

So if there is going to be a Green Tea Party, it will have to emerge from a different place — the radical center, a center committed to a radical departure from business as usual. Acting on that impulse, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman had forged a bipartisan climate/energy/jobs bill that deserves an energetic centrist Green Tea Party to support it.

This critical piece of energy legislation was supposed to be unveiled by the three senators on Monday, but it was suddenly postponed late Saturday because of Senator Graham’s fury that the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and the White House were planning to take up a highly controversial immigration measure before the energy bill.

The term “radical centrism” is absolutely incoherent. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines radical as “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.” Which, incidentally, is the precise opposite of “centrism.” For centrists, public policy is only “good” when it offers a concrete benefits to existing stakeholders and entrenched interests. By and large, centrism is an ideology of the status quo, and centrists are most concerned with maintaining existing institutional arrangements. Reform is rarely pursued, and then, only when it can be achieved through tepid incrementalism (the exception, of course, being wars and defense spending).

But even if “radical centrism” were a real thing and not nonsense prettied up by the gloss of a New York Times column, it’s still the case that Friedman’s praise is completely misplaced. Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman are consummate insiders. Indeed, this is why its even possible for a climate bill to move forward; each has intimate knowledge of the players involved and the experience necessary to navigate their concerns. Pace Friedman, there is absolutely nothing radical about the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman proposal; it provides $10 billion to the coal industry for “clean coal technology” and has garnered support from “the nation’s largest electric utilities association and three of the country’s biggest oil companies.” Of course, that’s not to say that the bill isn’t good — tepid incrementalism is the only real option we have for moving the ball forward — but radical it isn’t.

Like I said at the beginning of this post though, “radical centrism” is a complete contradiction in terms, and it would please me to no end to see the phrase mocked, denounced and completely excised from political dialogue.

Jamelle Bouie

Jamelle Bouie

2 Comments