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There Is No Vital Center

18

You read it right. I deny the existence of the vital center, the radical middle. It doesn’t exist.

Oh, there are centrists, believers in the fighting middle who espouse centrist ideas. But there is no political reality behind these people and their thoughts. There is no coherent philosophy or charismatic leader. Centrism is an amorphous idea – a fervent wish.

Which is why I think us self-described centrists are so often labeled frauds. I mean, after all, we still exist and debate and live in the world of left and right. Sure, we can say “there is another way,� we can even offer up new ideas but, at the end of the day, we have no foundation. We centrists are all air and no earth.

We aren’t even definable. Some centrists are merely partisans who disagree with their party on one or two issues. Some centrists are elitists who use promises of unity and harmony to calm the passions of the unwashed masses. Some centrists are knee-jerk compromisers, frightened of conflict. Some centrists, like yours truly, are fed up with the whole damn system and are looking for bold new ideas and serious change.

The only thing all centrists have in common is an aversion to extremism and blind ideology. But we have no unifying ideology of our own. We don’t even have a unifying objective.

There are only two teams in American politics. Those of us who refuse to play for either side are left standing on the field alone. And what do you call those who are on the field but not part of either team? Referees. And that’s exactly what too many of us centrists try to be. We point and say “that’s a partisan foul. That’s a political trick. That’s ignorant thinking. That’s wrong. That’s bad. Now play nice.�

Oh, there’s certainly a need to call out the fouls of both parties. You can spend a lifetime doing so. But to what end? Centrist scolds have no real power. Our criticisms are taken not as the wise words of people above the fray, but as background noise in the political cacophony.

If there is indeed “another way,� we’ll never get there by pointing out that Ann Coulter is an idiot and Michael Moore is a fool. We know what we’re not. What we don’t know is who we are.

Centrist groups spring up all the time and declare a need for such things as “leadership before partisanship� while demanding an end to the manufactured disunity propagated by the two major parties and their media coconspirators. But what the hell is leadership before partisanship? What the hell is unity?

We don’t know because we centrists keep trying to build the ship before we’ve cut the planks or even felled the trees. No one will take us seriously until we have a defined ideology we can point to and say: that’s me, I believe in that.

I’m not talking platform positions, pro life or pro choice. Pro Iraq or anti-Iraq. I’m talking the fundamental ideas that drive decision making. The left is rooted in Marxism and the belief that the conflict between the haves and the have nots is the axis on which the world spins. The right is rooted in self-determinism balanced by Judeo-Christian traditionalism.

What is the centrist ism? Who are our intellectual guides? What are our texts?

You could argue that we don’t need any. That our ism is individualism and thus each centrist need not agree with any other centrist. You could argue that our strength is our welcoming of diverse ideas and honest disagreement.

But that’s not an ideology. That’s a temperament. Many people on the left and right also welcome diverse ideas and honest disagreement. We call them moderates. And while they tend to be less partisan than their party brethren, they nonetheless play hard for their team and buy into their side’s ideology.

If centrism is just a desire for moderation, then so be it. Centrists should join one party or the other and work to moderate it. But if centrism really is a yearning for a new ideology, then we need to stop trying to organize and start thinking. Seriously. You can’t create a movement unless you know where you’re going and what car you’re taking. Centrists know neither and that’s why our nascent efforts fail and will continue to fail.

So, this is the choice as I see it. Centrists who want to make a difference can either 1) suck it up, join a party and try to moderate it from the inside. Or 2) can find their ism or isms and build the intellectual framework and deep ideology necessary to form an important, rather than tangential movement.

What will I do? I don’t know. I’m not going to be the guy who writes the key centrist text. But I might be the guy who tells you about the key text once it exists. We’ll see. I may join one of the parties after this year’s election (once I see how it all shakes out). I may not. I don’t know. I wasn’t expecting to write this. It just kinda showed up in my head and it made a lot of sense.

Now that I’ve shared, I need to think.

Cross-posted at Maverick Views