Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Centrist Q & A

Two days ago we published the points we feel are vital to the Centrist Reform Movement. Thanks to all who have linked and discussed. The response has been incredible.

In my debates with those on the left, right and in the center, a number of questions keep coming up. So I thought I’d address them here.

Do Centrists Want Everyone to Agree and Stop Arguing?

No. Centrism is not about seeking uniformity. It’s about being reasoned and reasonable in our disagreements. Centrists reject blind ideology—the habit of those on the far wings of defending their position no matter the facts. Blind ideology breeds propaganda, spin, needless divisiveness and considers opponents to be dangerous enemies. This is not conducive to effective government or even a strong society

But Centrists aren’t by any means looking for everyone to agree. Most Centrists welcome a wide berth of ideas, the only real requirement being that the ideas are based on reason. If you believe what you do because your side said so, that’s not going to get you far with Centrists. But if you can provide reasonable and reasoned arguments, no matter how far out on the political spectrum you are, most Centrists will welcome the debate. Vigorous, raucous, heated debate is vital. But when it crosses over into propaganda and hate, that’s where Centrists draw the line.

What Are the Specific Policy Positions of Centrists?

Centrism is not a political party with a platform and established solutions to the nation’s problems. Yes, Centrists come from the middle of the political spectrum, most tending towards being socially moderate/liberal but fiscally conservative. You’re probably not going to find religious fundamentalists or tax-and-spend liberals amongst our ranks. But you will find plenty of other ideas and plenty of disagreement. I have very firm beliefs (free markets, social inclusion, privacy rights, vigorous national defense, etc.) but other Centrists may fall to my left or right on some issues. That doesn't make us mushy. It makes us more committed to free thought than party unity.

Centrists don’t claim to have all the solutions. What we do claim is that every issue should have more solutions than the Democrat idea on one side and the Republican idea on the other. The current political environment too often serves up only two possible solutions. And too often the adherents to those solutions are unwilling to consider change (just look at the Social Security debate). Centrism seeks to get away from the choice A, choice B or no choice at all method of problem solving. We believe there is often a third way. And we want to find it.

Are Centrists Just Looking for Compromise?

Not really. Sure, Centrists tend to think of compromise as a better option than letting tensions escalate past the point of crisis. But compromise, in the sense of finding a middle-ground between two positions, isn’t really or at least isn’t always the point. Sometimes if idea A and idea B are not working, we should seek idea C. Or D, E and F. Our political parties get trapped in these debates of diametric opposition where they get bogged down in shouting matches and stop doing the thinking, persuasion and hard work necessary to resolve the problem. Centrists reject the notion that some problems are inherently irresolvable. We believe there’s always a new idea—but to find it, we need to stop demonizing each other and start debating each other.

Why are Centrists so Against Special Interests?

There’s nothing wrong with special interest groups and Centrists don’t want to chase them out of town. But we would like to see their power become more proportional. Congressmen and women too often defer to special interests even if its against the interests of the nation at large. I, personally speaking, don’t think we should try regulating special interests but should try mobilizing groups to counter the special interests, or at least dent their influence. It has been pointed out to me that this might be a little idealistic, which brings me to my final question…

Isn’t All this Talk About Changing the Tenor of Politics and Improving Debate and Discovering New Solutions Just a Bit Idealistic?

Sure. Of course. You can’t have a reform movement without ideals. And if you swing for the fences, you might just hit a double. Centrists know there will always been anger in politics, that politicians will always demonize each other, that some debates will devolve into shouting matches. But the goal is to make all this far less common. Divisiveness and blind ideology are becoming the de facto method of American politics. That’s got to change. And Centrists believe it can be.

See Also: What is a Moderate? at Random Fate.


At 10:14 AM, Blogger Jonathan C said...

Great followup, Alan. I'd like to add some of my own thoughts on your FAQ.

Are Centrists Just Looking for Compromise?

Just a point of clarification, Centrists aren't always out to reject both party policies in order to propose our own, completely new, solution. There are some times when we come down hard on one side or the other (from what I've read, the large majority of centrist bloggers have sided heavily with the Democrats in the stem cell debate).

It's also worth noting that "The Republican Proposal" and "The Democratic Proposal" are not always single solution, non-severability-clause ridden proposals. On any particular issues, I may agree with the GOP on points A and B, but reject C, and agree with the Democrats on point X, but reject points Y and Z. I would therefore support a policy including A, B, and X, but discarding C, Y, and Z.

The result is a solution that matches the Centrist point of view, but coincidentally results in a compromise between the extremes. Check out my discussion on Social Security for an example of my own struggle to put together a workable solution using the best ideas from each party.

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Great thoughts, Jonahtan. I agree. It's not always about charting a new course. Sometimes the left or right is, in my mind, exactly on point. But, as a Centrist, I don't automatically side with one party or the other. And I don't assume, once I've come to an opinion, that the other side doesn't have anything to add. I think all rationale opinions are worth discussion.

At 6:30 PM, Blogger KMSweet said...

Alan and Jon, thank you for finally putting down in writing what I have been struggling for years to organize in my head. Your Q & A is the most coherent, thought out, and intelligent "centrist manifesto" that I have seen so far. Thanks again, and keep up the good work.

At 10:55 PM, Blogger EG said...

Great post. But one question: What are the differences (if any) between a Centrist, a Moderate and an Independent?

At 11:07 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...


Good questiong. I'd say an Independent is really anyone who doesn't belong to one of the two major parties. Anyone from a Centrist to a Libertarian to a Communist.

As for moderate/centrist, that's an ongoing debate. My take is that a moderate is anyone who seeks to calm the waters and avoid extremism. Moderates are reactive. Centrists, while generally in favor of civility, are proactive and try to drive the debate rather than just reacting to it.

But a lot of people use moderate and Centrist interchangably.

At 6:55 AM, Blogger EG said...

You might wish to revise your independent definition. There are loyal Greens, Libertarians, etc. who belong to their respective party. How are they Indpendent if they only vote the party line?

If you said an Independent is someone who is not affliated with any party and votes his/her conscience, I can buy that. Most people identify themselves as Independent. In the polling booth, they may vote striaght party ticket but they are not associated or labeled as a partisan.

Given the blogger profiles, would you consider yourselves Indpendents?

At 7:10 AM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Well, Inpependent quite literally means you haven't registered with a party (in fact, in many states you can be a registered indenpendent). I should have used lowercase libertarian and communist as I just meant people of those leanings but not of those parties.

So, yes, Joe and I are indepednents in the sense that neither of us belong to a party currently, but I don't think the word itself is as accurate as Centrist in describing our political philosophy.

At 10:14 AM, Blogger EG said...

Indpendent Centrists would be correct then.

At 5:03 PM, Blogger Xrlq said...

"Centrists reject blind ideology—the habit of those on the far wings of defending their position no matter the facts."

Some do, but then again, so do some liberals and some conservatives. Others can be just as knee-jerk in their "centrism" as anyone on the left or the right, often coupled with a smug perception that if some people are to one's right and others are to his left, he must be right.


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