Tuesday :: Apr 26, 2005

Moderate Centrists and Centrist Moderates (alternately, The Radioactive Among Us)

by eriposte

I admit I have used the word "moderate" or "centrist" to describe some of my leanings.

But that was before I realized how the meaning of these words has been hijacked not to describe actual moderation or centrism in a spectrum of acceptable views, but to provide a convenient and pleasing descriptor for self-serving politicians or individuals who make their living by generously accommodating the views of extremists or radicals in the opposition. Thus, the losers who voted for the Bankruptcy Bill or those willing to compromise with the proponents of the Nuclear Option (to name a couple of examples) are the lucky beneficiaries of the media's (and their own) "moderate" or "centrist" tag.

Let me put it plainly. On the Left, the notion of "centrism" or the idea of a "moderate" has increasingly become a fake descriptor for those who have no real interest in facts or principles (instead of being a label for those who are driven by facts).

[Readers, got any more examples (as I said, I'm not that creative or humorous)?]

OK. What set off this post is Sam Rosenfeld's note at TAPPED about the following claptrap in Roll Call that claimed (bold text being my emphasis):

Tensions flared at the gathering over recent defections by moderate Democrats on key votes, most particularly the recent bankruptcy bill, in which 73 Members including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) sided with the GOP.
But that Member, a moderate, said the struggle is a welcome one among many, given that the Democratic Caucus has long been led by liberals who know — and often care — little to nothing about the difficulty endangered lawmakers face winning in Republican-leaning districts. The predominantly liberal leadership has done nothing to improve the minority’s status at the ballot box, the Member said.

“There is emerging a centrist group within the Democratic Party that will be playing a part on major policy votes,” the Member vowed. “It’s about common sense. We cannot win from the left.”

Such brilliant ignorance, er, "centrism" and "moderation" on display! Cool!

Rosenfeld takes the so-called "moderate" and "centrist" Democrats to task, but, alas, lets Roll Call off the hook by continuing to refer to those completely out-of-the-mainstream Democrats who voted with the GOP on the MBNA Welfare Act as "moderates"! Whoa!

On that particular score, however, it’s very hard to countenance the moderates’ argument. Can anybody make a convincing case that getting behind this bill was a requirement for red-district Democrats? That when Democrats are hobbled by a public perception of being too left-wing and out of the mainstream, the party’s opposition to legislation like this is what people are thinking about?
It’s dispiriting to see internal party debates carried out in this way, since there are issues where moderates’ arguments for adhering to a degree of political realism are valuable. But the kind of corporate whore legislation that Republicans don’t even make a big public spectacle out of supporting surely does not fall under that category.

Sam, I know your post is well intentioned, but with you/TAPPED ending up (inadvertently) propagating the myth about these people being "moderate", we have much less hope with the "mainstream media". Not to mention, this has long been the GOP's dream. Shift to the Far Right and paint real moderates as loony-liberals, while losers in the Democratic caucus join these extremists while enjoying the fake title of "moderates" or "centrists" as a reward. Sorry, but I've learnt English all my life and I know a "centrist" or "moderate" when I see one. (Atrios picks a slightly different term for these fine folks.)

Barely did I finish reading Rosenfeld's post about the "moderates", I came upon a post by Mark Schmitt at The Decembrist where he refers to another similar article by Ron Brownstein about "centrism".

Schmitt's post, as always, is thoughtful (bold text is my emphasis):

...Citing Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi, Brownstein argues that the self-organizing qualities of internet politics tend to drive it to extremes:

More and more Democrats see their future in Bush's model, not Clinton's. Trippi says Clinton's conviction that elections are won mostly by converting swing voters "is obsolete." Democrats, Trippi argues, are more likely to win back the White House by increasing turnout among their own supporters with a pointedly partisan message, as Bush did.

But a tilt in Trippi's direction is evident in the surprisingly unified Democratic congressional opposition to Bush's priorities. The result is that both parties are offering policies and messages aimed primarily at their core supporters.

Even strategists such as Trippi who support that approach acknowledge it could have a cost. By ceding the center, it might leave both parties vulnerable to a new force.

These are easy paragraphs to write, and easy to read and nod along. But really? Is the unified congressional opposition to hugely unpopular policies such as Social Security privatization really putting Democrats out on a far-left limb? What exactly are the policies that Democrats are pushing that are "aimed primarily at their core supporters"?

Brownstein goes on:

Yet if the two parties continue on their current trajectories, the backdrop for the 2008 election could be massive federal budget deficits, gridlock on problems like controlling healthcare costs, furious fights over ethics and poisonous clashes over social issues and Supreme Court appointments. A lackluster economy that's squeezing the middle-class seems a reasonable possibility too.

Another classic "pox on both your houses" paragraph. But do the examples serve the point? What if the Democratic Party did not continue on the current trajectory, but just abstained and let the Republicans continue on theirs? The backdrop for the 2008 election would still be massive federal budget deficits, no progress on controlling healthcare costs (certainly not from the wonderful folks who brought you the Medicare prescription drug bill), maybe not "furious fights over ethics" but huge ethical problems, and a lackluster economy. There might not be "poisonous clashes over social issues" if the Democrats just rolled over, but it is the Republicans that are forcing those poisonous social issues onto the agenda, not the Dems.

If one party shoots over to an extreme, and the other opposes it, the opposition party has not automatically moved over to the other extreme. In fact, if the center is open, it is because Bush, Rove and DeLay ceded it. There is no reason for Democrats not to claim it. Democrats can become -- or, I should say, they are -- the party of responsible long-term federal budget choices, of sensible progress on health care, of political reform and ethical behavior, of leaving settled social issues as mostly private choices, and of reasonable Justices like Ginsburg and Breyer. Moving beyond Brownstein's list, add responsible stewardship of the environment, and more support but less federal intervention in education. Is there anything on that centrist list that the most committed MoveOn.org member would not be comfortable with?

The M-word and the C-word are further examples of how the media discourse has been corrupted. People who accommodate extremism in our midst under the guise of "democracy" (otherwise stated as "majority rule") clearly have little understanding of the basis of the kind of democracy that has led to the success of Western capitalistic societies - the one where there are significant protections for minority views via balance of powers (also see here and here) and significant protections for the middle class.

I guess we can all make our $0.02 starting contribution by not referring to a single Democratic Senator or Congressman who supports extremist or radical policies as moderates or centrists. It's time to call a spade a spade. I suggest a "centrist" and "moderate" compromise on how to address them: Radioactive ("Extremely sensitive or controversial"). What say you?

Let's not help the media bamboozle rank and file citizens by painting these people as something that they are not.

eriposte :: 6:14 AM :: Comments (1) :: Digg It!