Taxonomy of the Center


This turned up in a comments thread and probably got drowned out there by yak about Iraq, but it seems worth saving, since a lot of people talk about ideas like “moderate” and “centrist” without agreeing on what they are.

Tom Strong laid down an important distinction:

Moderate: Gentle in tone, open to compromises (particularly “third way� compromises), tempered.

Centrist: Possessing views that represent “the middle majority.”

They’re related, but they’re not the same.

Right. To which I would append two other “related but not the same” positions:

Balanced: holding with conviction individual positions that are held by both left and right in current politics, in more or less equal number.

Might be “liberal� on abortion, “conservative� on gun control, “liberal� on environment, “conservative� on defense, etc. No need to be moderate. I suspect this is closer to Lieberman and McCain and possibly Dean.

Independent: considering each political question without reference to what anyone else thinks, but merely consulting one’s own inner moral or ethical compass.

This often will end up looking like balanced, but it is not necessarily the same thing. Balanced can be a deliberately calculated political tactic (as of course can centrist).

And of course there are those who simply get up every morning and put on the team jersey of whichever side is ahead in the polls. I call them by their 19th century name, trimmers (trimming their sails to the prevailing political winds).

Might be some redundancy there, but it’s a place to start. You can’t debate till you can agree on terminology. Refinements welcomed.

What it starts to look like is a taxonomy of people who do not affiliate consistently with either political party/faction/directional tendency in a given bipolar political system.

Some observations occur: you can be a moderate in any political climate, but in a highly polarized one you can’t be a centrist because there is no center. It’s also possible to be what I’ve called an “independent” and happen to perfectly align with Party A or Party B, because you’ve independently come to the same conclusions it has about the issues. But I don’t find that a likely scenario in contemporary American politics.

Another possible identity here is reformer: one concerned primarily about the political process and the perceived level of corruption of it, usually by both parties but especially the one that holds the upper hand. Other positions on questions of the day tend to be secondary to this concern. Ross Perot in ’92?

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