Not a Good Feeling.

5

Irrelevance.

But that’s how it feels to be a centrist these days.

Emotion drives politics, as it does so much else in human life, and the old grudge match between Democrats and Republicans has flared up so hot and high and bright that it’s blinding everyone to everything else. This conflict is rooted in some of the oldest ruts in the American brain. There’s not much left of useful substance to it — since each side owns a part of the truth and only by working together, in fruitful friction, could they put it back together — but there is hereditary loyalty, personal hatred, territory, and power at stake. Even if it’s destructive and empty, as idiotic as a tug-of-war in a silent comedy, the conflict is irresistibly riveting.

In America we proceed by extremes. This is as true in our political life as in our sexual life, where we swing all the way from prudery to prurience and back again. It’s frustrating because it’s so reflexive and brainless (or what cortex there is is propagandist for the passions). It’s exciting for the same reason.

Only charisma (as in McCain or, later, Obama) can banish the fatal dullness of good sense. So this political cycle will get interesting for centrists only if someone with both wits and wattage plays the old game well enough to earn the luxury of transcending it.

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