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On “Centrism”…

A recent post by Brad Delong got me thinking about “Centrism”. He states:

I am a member of the sensible, technocratic bipartisan center interested in Policies That Work and Make America BetterTM and uninterested in Postures of Ideological PurityTM

First of all, he may be “center”, but he sure reads “to the left” in my opinion (which if you’ve read my other posts here you can guess is just fine by me). Secondly, the more I started thinking about it, the more I wasn’t sure his statement isn’t a bit of an “oxymoron”.

That is, declaring, “I am a member of the sensible, technocratic bipartisan center” is actually in a sense a “Posture of Ideological Purity”.

Why? The problem is, “Policies That Work and Make America Better” may ultimately be wildly to the left of the right. There’s no guarantee they’ll look even mildly centrist. For instance, the solution to the “Health Care CrisisTM” may well be to scrap private insurance altogether and move to an entirely government based “single-payer” solution. On appearance that might seem entirely to “the left”, but if you truly analyze it it might be the only sane solution. Similarly the answer to the “Marijuana problem” might be a completely market based system with no government intervention and that would appear to be entirely to “the right”.

Or not – wait, that’s “left” right?

You see the problem there.

The point is, ultimately it should not matter if the solution is left, right, or center but rather should matter if the choice is the ideal one. Aspiring to be centrist is to some extent just as limiting as choosing a side.

Now I’m not sure if ultimately that is exactly what Brad means – he’ll “follow the path wherever it leads” regardless of where in the political spectrum it falls. However it does read like he’s boxing himself in a bit – that by attempting to remain “center” he’ll limit himself to solutions that do not have the appearance of being partisan. That said, I’m not sure I’d ascribe him to being so limiting. For instance, he was one of the few economists decrying the free market stupidity that led us to the current economic mess while still being willing to accept Obama’s tepid and decidedly non-“leftist” stimulus solution. Whether that is good or bad is another question, but it does show a degree of “technocratic bipartisan center” (ie: a willingness to embrace not what was popular in certain ideological circles, but what he honestly believed were, “Policies That Work and Make America Better”).

Ultimately I believe that we would all be whole lot better off looking at policies the same way we look at own medical care. One does not ask their doctor if they are “left” or “right” when asking for health advice, one just asks for advice. Furthermore one does not judge said advice against some litmus of ideological purity, but rather one weighs all the input and makes a choice based on it, regardless of how radical or not it might seem. It is ultimately a neutral and theoretically scientific endeavor, which ideally policy should be as well.

So if the solution is government control, free markets, or some middle ground, it should not matter as long as it is most likely to “Work and Make America Better” (personally I would suggest also, “Make The World Better”, but whatever).

Unfortunately given the modern “tribalism” of our two party system – that whatever “they say” must be bad, makes that virtually impossible. Nor can I say that I am in any way immune. But it is where we ought to go and speaks to the need of making it more than a two party system (fat chance on that frankly).

Honestly, I used to believe I was an “Independent Centrist”, but by necessity I find myself not only effectively a Democrat, but a dyed in the wool liberal/leftist too. That’s not because I want to, or even I have changed very much, but because they (ie: all the other Americans) have moved the damn goal posts so far to the right. I mean, believing in habeas corpus and thinking torture was evil was not always strictly a “liberal” ideal. Thus I suspect this too may be why Brad is perceived on the “left”, even though his ideas aren’t all that “leftist” when looked at from a historical prospective.

How far we have fallen.

Still, I think we need to be wary of enforced “centrism” as such found with the likes of Obama. Said “centrists” risk becoming the “Tom Friedman“s of the world and, as Krugman puts it, one of the “sober, serious ones” who soberly and seriously drive us off a cliff.

So, “realpolitik” be damned, I’d rather be “shrill“.

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