Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Paul Krugman Talks Centrist Games, I Hear Catholic Centrist Games

Yesterday, I received an email from a Catholic centrist who holds court on the Commonweal blog site, among other sites.  I had mentioned him and critiqued his centrism in a previous posting here, and he was unhappy.  

And so I emailed him back to tell him that 1) I'm sorry he feels offended by my critique, but 2) I find it difficult to imagine he can possibly take anything I say seriously, when he has given me very clear signals that he has no time for me, for who I am as a human being, for what I think and have to say.  He gladly ran me off from the Commonweal site, and has seemed ever since he accomplished that exclusion blithely content with my absence.  I haven't heard from him until now.  I haven't gotten any emails from him asking how I'm doing and telling me I'm missed and inviting me back to the conversation from which he helped--he played a significant role--to run me off.

And, naturally, I have not heard back from him after I emailed him yesterday in response to his email.  And that confirms for me precisely what I told him in my email: he has no time for me as a human being, a fellow Catholic, a fellow Catholic who happens to be, as he is, gay.  With whom he conspicuously refused to stand in solidarity when I was under fire at the site on which he holds court.

So, naturally, as I read Paul Krugman's recent bullseye analysis of gullible centrism (and see also here), I think Catholic centrists, though Krugman is critiquing political centrists.  The two do run together, though, since the big-boy Catholic centrists who hold forth at the major Catholic blog sites are, after all, first and foremost political commentators well-situated in the cultural and media circles of power that generate opinion for the rest of us in American society.  The circles of power that tell us what reasonable people ought to think about this, that, and the other thing.

Krugman's critique of the centrist game makes points I've made over and over about the Catholic centrist game on this blog for the past few years.  He notes that centrists

1. Are, in fact, playing a game: it's the game of posing as high-minded, objective, rational thinkers who refuse to be sucked in by the ideological extremes of either the right or the left.

2. But, in fact, their game is consistently and predictably to make extreme right-wing positions palatable to the "center," to "reasonable" people, while marginalizing the views of the left.

3. As the center moves further to the right, the "reasonable" and "objective" and "non-ideological" centrists move right along with it.

4. And so the real commitment of centrists, buried inside their fa├žade of objectivity and sweet reason, is to the right and against the left.  Where power lies and where power goes, there lie and there go the centrists.

5. As a result of their hidden commitment to uphold and extend the power of the right, centrists are completely infatuated with what right-wing commentators say, while they pretend that those to the left simply aren't in the room: they don't count; they have nothing of significance to say; they're not worth reading or responding to.  Power lies with the right, and power is where centrists go, because power-mongering is their game.

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.

As I say, all of this seems to me a very apt, a very accurate, description not merely of political centrists, but of Catholic centrists as well.  Who continue to talk gravely and respectfully about the views of those to the right, as if these views are automatically respectable and "Catholic" because they have a right-wing provenance, but who refuse even to engage or talk to their brother and sister Catholics to the left.

Because, as objective and rational thinkers who stand aloof from the fray, you understand, they do not intend to lend any credibility at all to ideologically driven, irrational, politically skewed views.  Which those on the left (but never the right) espouse.  So that fellow Catholics to the left just don't exist.

And they therefore don't present any problems for centrist Catholics as the centrist powerbrokers slice and dice the definition of Catholicism--as they tell the rest of us just what Catholicism means.  They present no problem as Catholicism is defined, because they just don't exist or count, the brothers and sisters on the left.  They're not in the room.  And their human existence can't, therefore, in any way problematize the centrist definition of a religion whose very name means here comes everybody.

Since they're not there at all as human beings or brother and sister Catholics.

Once again, I want to give credit to British guerrilla artist Banksy for the stellar image of the wallpapered elephant in the living room, which I've used repeatedly to illustrate the blindness of centrist Catholics when it comes to the presence of fellow Catholics to the left in the catholic conversation.

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