Thursday, July 28, 2011

E.J. Dionne on the Perilous Flaws of Centrism

Finally, a middle-of-the-road, mainstream Catholic commentator--E.J. Dionne--gets what some of us have been saying about centrism for some time now, until we're blue in the face, seemingly without making much impact at all: "the center bends."  Centrism is values-lite.  It's about calculation and not principle.

And it's time for people of faith with progressive principles to stop the bending, the calculating, the waffling on principles, and stand for something, for a change.  Otherwise, the center will soon be so far to the right that we might as well all fold our hands and let those chipping away at what's left of our participatory democracy have the scraps that remain.

Dionne writes,

All the polls I have ever seen peg the vast majority of Americans as moderate . . . . .

Centrism is something altogether different. It's not a philosophy. It's a position based on calculation. It doesn't start with fixed principles. It measures where everyone else stands on some political spectrum at a given moment and then frantically adjusts.

Because centrism is reactive, you never really know what a centrist believes. Centrists are constantly packing their bags and chasing off to find a new location as the political conversation veers one way or another.

Right now, this sort of centrism is enabling our irrational, dangerous, and decidedly immoderate debt-ceiling conversation. Pushed by the Tea Party, Republicans have created an unprecedented situation by tying an increase in the debt ceiling, once a routine matter, to sharp cuts in spending. And their most conservative members have blocked any new tax revenues to cut the deficit.

What beltway pundits call the center is far to the right of where the American voting public actually is on issues like tax cuts or putting Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block.  It's also far to the right of the growing consensus on marriage equality

Many of us had hoped for a new progressive consensus with the president at the front it, when Obama was elected.  He has dashed our hopes, and has been mesmerized by the beltway definition of the center.  He's been completely principles-lite in his approach to the principles that ought to govern the thinking of a democracy that wants a viable future, vis-a-vis the obligation of the grossly rich to carry their load.

That shouldn't stop those of us who had hoped for a new progressive consensus from aiming at it, however, even without the presidential leadership for which we'd hoped.  If we don't do something very soon to effect such a coalition of principled progressives, there is not going to be much left to fight for.  Nut much at all.

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