Several readers have asked me in recent days what I understand by the term "centrist" and why I keep using it. As a partial answer to those readers' questions, I'd like to link back to something I posted this past April, which points to a statement on political centrism (as a game) by Paul Krugman in the New York Times.
As this posting notes, Krugman writes,
Well, ask yourself the following: What does it mean to be a centrist, anyway?
It could mean supporting politicians who actually are relatively nonideological, who are willing, for example, to seek Democratic support for health reforms originally devised by Republicans, to support deficit-reduction plans that rely on both spending cuts and revenue increases. And by that standard, centrists should be lavishing praise on the leading politician who best fits that description — a fellow named Barack Obama.
But the "centrists" who weigh in on policy debates are playing a different game. Their self-image, and to a large extent their professional selling point, depends on posing as high-minded types standing between the partisan extremes, bringing together reasonable people from both parties — even if these reasonable people don’t actually exist. And this leaves them unable either to admit how moderate Mr. Obama is or to acknowledge the more or less universal extremism of his opponents on the right.
Enter Mr. Ryan, an ordinary G.O.P. extremist, but a mild-mannered one. The "centrists" needed to pretend that there are reasonable Republicans, so they nominated him for the role, crediting him with virtues he has never shown any sign of possessing. Indeed, back in 2010 Mr. Ryan, who has never once produced a credible deficit-reduction plan, received an award for fiscal responsibility from a committee representing several prominent centrist organizations.
So you can see the problem these commentators face. To admit that the president’s critique is right would be to admit that they were snookered by Mr. Ryan, who is the same as he ever was. More than that, it would call into question their whole centrist shtick — for the moral of my story is that Mr. Ryan isn’t the only emperor who turns out, on closer examination, to be naked.
And that's exactly what I mean when I use the terms "centrism" and "centrists": ". . . [T]he "centrists" who weigh in on policy debates are playing a different game. Their self-image, and to a large extent their professional selling point, depends on posing as high-minded types standing between the partisan extremes, bringing together reasonable people from both parties — even if these reasonable people don’t actually exist."
And "the moral of my story is that Mr. Ryan isn’t the only emperor who turns out, on closer examination, to be naked."
Emphasis on playing a game. Emphasis on naked emperor--which is a story about game-playing in which many of us engage vis-a-vis the powerful to keep ourselves deceived about what we can really all see going on right around us. If we but open our eyes. But that would then require us to loosen our tongues. And there would then be a price to pay for seeing and talking.
Emphasis on shtick and posing and pretending and, quite specifically, posing as high-minded types.
As reasonable types. As those standing between the partisan extremes.
When they're nothing of the sort. Because there is no such objective, non-committed, high-minded, standing-apart animal in the real world, in which there are black and white, male and female, believer and non-believer, socially elite and socially underclass, Catholic and Muslim, Mormon and Baptist, gay and straight. And, above all, rich and poor.
And in which we all stand on specific spots that determine how and what we see. So that our only hope at seeing more broadly--at seeing the truth about the naked emperor--is to begin to stand with others who see from spots that, we've learned, provide us with much-needed perspective that helps to clarify and augment our own vision.
So that men can learn to see beyond their absurd mansplaining tropes by listening for a change to women and learning to see through women's eyes . . . .
All of this requires us not merely to stand, but to stand with.
And for those of us rooted in Judaeo-Christian faith, that standing with must always be first and foremost with the dispossessed. Because the call to do this is at the very heart of our faith traditions.
And so the game-playing which imagines the defenders of the super-rich to be somehow equivalent to those defending the poor is toxic. It's toxic for those engaging in it. It's toxic for nations prone to this game-playing. And it's toxic for the whole planet.
This is how I understand centrism and its game-playing.