Saturday, February 24, 2007

postal scrotum: centrist politics

Jason writes:

Hi, Kevin,

Just got done reading an excellent post by Dr. Thomas PM Barnett on the lunatic fringe of the netroots phenomenon. The post refers to yesterday's WaPo story about the Daily Kos's vendetta against "insufficiently liberal" Democrats like Rep. Ellen Tauscher.

I don't know about you, but I attended my share of NARAL rallies in high school, went to the uber-liberal experimental college for a couple of years and even had a brief flirtation with Ralph Nader in 2000. I consider myself a liberal independent, yet why do I often find Kos just as grating as anything I'd read on Michelle Malkin's site? Why am I increasingly put off by the far left as I have been by the far right? It's not like I'm mellowing with age or anything, but lately I've found myself just shaking my head at the tone that's being used on both sides. Don't be mistaken, I'm not calling for a return to some sort of mythical golden age where everyone had courtly political debates followed by bipartisan reach-arounds. Brass-knuckle politics has always been, and will always be an indispensable part of American politics. I think the difference now is that technology has flattened the playing field, and the fringe elements on both sides now have access to the same size bullhorns as the moderate voices. No retreat and no quarter spared seem to be the rules of the day.

I think Barnett has a point that emotionally we're ripe for a centrist third party, but who in the centrist camp (both left and right) would be willing to break with all that establishment PAC money to mount a full-on Bull Moose-style political insurrection?

Just a thought.


You know, Jason, one thing I've figured out is that no one likes a centrist. People like you and me are considered too spineless and unprincipled by party-liners to have anything worth saying in discussion.

I agree, though, that the time is right for a centrist party. Several times on this blog, I've chafed against the stultifying two-party system, which forces everyone to choose between parties that decidedly do not represent everyone's nuanced interests, and that also manage to squelch any real novelty and variety in political discourse.

America doesn't need to go the Korean route and have too many parties to count, but a good, solid centrist party (as opposed to an "independent" party) isn't a bad idea. Centrism, however, does come with its own problems: if a party defines itself as centrist or moderate, it is necessarily defining itself in terms of two perceived extremes. If the two parties representing the extremes should shift their positions and tone, where does this leave a centrist party? Are they obliged to find a new center?

Another question is whether centrism for centrism's sake is ultimately beneficial. While I tend to skew moderate overall, there are moments when I agree that extreme action, from the left or the right, is called for. Certain national or global crises might warrant more oomph than a centrist party is willing to give. What then?

In any case, the basic assumption in your email is a good one: polarization has reached a ridiculous degree, and it's time to ratchet down the rhetoric and bring cool, clear-headed individuals back into mainstream politics. Can this happen? Doubtful, but a man can dream.

Thanks for writing.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I’m more to the right but none the less tired of and a bit shocked at the level of polarization, not only in the U.S. but elsewhere. But I don’t think there is much chance for a third party in the U.S. any time soon.

A problem with a three party system is that it could cause a good bit of gridlock; if two parties are always against something, nothing would ever get done. On the other hand, if two parties are for something, it would likely pass w/o issue.

It would also create issues on how chairmanships are distributed, etc. But it’s all very hypothetical at this point.