It seems like in today’s political climate, Centrists are everyone’s favorite laughing stock. Admittedly, many of them (us?) might deserve it. But I want to set a few things straight about what Centrism is- and isn’t- supposed to be. Both for fellow Centrists and those who don’t quite understand what it is.
Put plainly, Centrism is supposed to be a political affiliation which designates that we have no individual party- or, at least, that we don’t belong to any specific party within the current two party system; that we like to be pragmatic and we like to avoid extremes whenever realistically possible.
Centrism tends to believe that most political parties have a few good ideas at the very least; that most parties ultimately have their own individual merits and flaws, but that none on their own offers the whole solution. So instead, we tend to have a habit of recognizing merits wherever they occur- regardless of the political affiliation behind them in that system. And our political policies often reflect this.
Our policies are usually mashup between various levels of Social Liberalism and Political Conservatism as we take what we believe is important or functional from various groups on the political spectrum; as Steven Merrit Seibert and Charles Wheelan (Public Policy Professor at Dartmouth College and author of The Centrist Manifesto) wrote for The Daily Beast in June of 2016:
Centrism draws the most compelling ideas from each party; Centrists respect the Republicans’ historical fiscal conservatism and the skepticism of what an ever-enlarging government can accomplish. We appreciate the importance of personal responsibility and wealth creation. Yet [we] also admire the Democrats’ empathy for the disadvantaged, the long-standing support for civil and personal rights, and the commitment to environmental protection.
The list of respected accomplishments of both sides is long. But so is the list of rigid beliefs that need to be jettisoned.
Our policies, however, change regularly as we constantly examine and re-examine things in order to find the best solutions for both long and short term problems. And on the outside, to most this often makes us seem wishy-washy; like we have no legitimate platform to stand on and “can’t make up our minds” so to speak.
The reality is that this couldn’t be further from the truth. We pride ourselves as a political affiliation, on being willing to reflect on and analyze our policy- and that analytical reflection often leads us to discard that which no longer works. So what seems to be a roiling, indecisive sea on the surface is really a smooth cycle of reflection and change as necessary.
This ability to recognize the good in most political ideologies and constantly reflect on our own policies also often means that we’re far more willing to act as bridge builders between the differing groups that make up our political sphere; our reputation of being the party of moderation and compromise is ultimately well earned- even if it’s not entirely accurate… And therein lies what is likely the majority confusion about Centrism.
Where most people inevitably fail in their criticism of Centrist ideology lies in where we think we walk on the political spectrum: The straight and narrow center road; the phrase “The Center of the Road is for Roadkill” is a common phrase touted about by both sides who see Centrism as ridiculous and impossible.
But where these people are guilty of simply misunderstanding the ideology? Those who currently call themselves Centrists, in many ways, are guilty of making a complete mockery of it. And when I say that we have earned the title of laughing stock of the political sphere, it is largely due to their actions that do so. This was better evident probably nowhere else than in the wake of Charlottesville- a point at which those who call themselves Centrists were all too quick to step forward and decry that “sure, Nazism is bad. But the actions of Antifa are equally as bad”.
A part of Centrist ideology is about acknowledging that both sides have their own merits and their own faults. That much, at least, is true… And yes, Antifa does indeed have its faults; all organizations do, and they’re certainly not on their own in that regard. It behooves us as Centrists to recognize that truth. But let me assure you that the ideology exhibited by a number of those who called themselves Centrists in the wake of Charlottesville is not, in fact, consistent with genuine Centrist belief.
We as Centrists are not called to believe that an evil on one side has an equal and opposite evil on the other; we are not called to condemn both parties equally or draw moral equivalencies. Likewise, we are not called to be impartial, or worse: Indifferent to injustice. We are not called to compromise with evil, or give it a foothold, either.
Any such ideology that demands we do so is completely antithetical to Centrism and what it stands for.
Moderation has more in kind with compromise than working toward the best solution […] This leads to policy that is not based on pragmatism but rather on the needs of compromised points of view.
The goal is not compromise, but rather pragmatism based on reasonable considerations. In other words, decisions and policies based on the best answer, not the compromise between two flawed perspectives that are ideologically opposed.
When necessary, compromise. But [always] fight for reason, and present the case to bring others closer to the most pragmatic solution or policy. – The American Centrist Party
What we are called to be as Centrists, however? Is to be a voice of logic and reason in a political world that (more often than not) places loyalty to a singular party and doctrine above both common sense and reason.
The common core of Centrist Ideology is supposed to be that we uphold the needs of the group over the ideologies of the individual; that we value common sense, logic, reason, and pragmatism far above any individual political ideology and our own personal feelings- and are therefore called to examine context, recognize reality and circumstance, look at the evidence, and do what is right based on that (as opposed to what we believe).
Doing what is right doesn’t (always, if ever) mean walking a straight line down the middle of the road pointing out the faults of both parties at every chance, however; sometimes doing what is right involves compromise between dominant ideologies, or choosing a more moderate route. Yes. Sometimes it means completely re-evaluating a prior stance when circumstances change and our current one no longer works. Yes… But other times it means holding to what is right even when what is right directly goes against all dominant ideology. And sometimes it also means extreme action when it is viewed as the best action; sometimes it means putting your foot down and unapologetically picking a side.
Centrists tend to be pragmatic and avoid extremes whenever possible. [But] of course an extreme may [sometimes] be a required action […] – The American Centrist Party
But make no mistake: That does not make those actions any less Centrist because they do not toe a middle line. The middle line doesn’t exist.
The best path, instead, pulls the good from both sides as necessary– and that doesn’t always wind up equal; you don’t always wind up with an even split between conservative and Democratic and Green (etc) ideology. As a result, Centrism is more correctly a winding walk down an otherwise straight road- and that inevitably means some actions and policies will lean harder to the Left or the Right than others. Any good Centrist knows that.
This is applicable even to the Charlottesville incident: In a conversation about Nazism and White Supremacy, pointing the finger at Antifa and acting like they’re just as bad as Nazis is something which ultimately acts against Centrist ideology.
Legitimate Centrism demands that we acknowledge context, circumstance, and reality. And the reality is that some evils simply do not have an equal… That yes all violence is bad in its own way, but not all violence is the same; retaliatory violence against a Terrorist Organization is not equal to the discriminatory violence a Terrorist Organization seeks to commit in the first place. And pointing this finger creates a false equivalency that is ultimately unsupported by logic or reason.
It is not necessarily better or worse than other actions we seek to distance ourselves from as Centrists, but it is most certainly counter to everything that Centrism stands for. And if this is our common modus operandi? Then it’s really no surprise at all that the political sphere can’t take us seriously.
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