tent of centrism, not in every way of course, but broadly enough that one could reason with the man. For example he said: “Call me crazy, but I believe in global warming” (*1).
In an earlier draft I had titled that post Radical Centrism. I realize that seems to be an oxymoron, but one definition of “radical” is “marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional.” Since political polarization has become the norm, centrism is a considerable departure.
Later, while exploring the now defunct Americans Elect I encountered an article by Tom Friedman written last July titled: Make Way for the Radical Center. That bolstered my sense that I was on to something. He wrote:
“Thanks to a quiet political start-up that is now ready to show its hand, a viable, centrist, third presidential ticket, elected by an Internet convention, is going to emerge in 2012. I know it sounds gimmicky — an Internet convention — but an impressive group of frustrated Democrats, Republicans and independents, called Americans Elect, is really serious, and they have thought out this process well.”
Well, not well enough, as ‘Elect closed up shop a week or two ago. I’m not knocking the effort, though. At least it was a serious attempt at breaking the death hold the two old, squabbling parties have on the wheel of our ship of state. The lesson to be learned is not to become more pessimistic, cynical and depressed but to understand more deeply the obstacles to overcome in order to change our ship’s course. Unlike the Titanic, we have some time. We need to embrace patience and try harder, and in more ways. My guess is Americans Elect will regroup and give it a better try next time around, perhaps in a very different form.
How often have you heard about some poll or another than indicates 60% or more, often many more, of Americans agree on things like a federal budget that includes reduced spending and some higher taxes, or a woman’s right to chose when it comes to abortion, or to break up the large financial institutions that are too big to fail, which of course, means we must bail them out when they do.
There does seem to be what Richard Nixon liked to call a “silent majority” on many issues, but we are obviously stymied when it comes to turning our majority into political successes.
The obstacles are many, such as party polarization and political gridlock, and the ever increasing influence of monied interests. “We have the best Congress that money can buy,” quipped cowboy humorist and social commentator Will Rogers early last century. The line isn’t funny anymore. It’s too true to be funny.
How could we change it? What would have to be done? And could we find the united energy to get it done? I say when we believe we can get something done that we want done, we have the energy to do it. Whether this is in our personal lives or together. But if we don’t believe…
A general problem Americans Elect encountered was a lack of belief that their internet convention could really make an impact. Frankly, it reminded me of voting for high school student council. Really, what did it matter? It got snagged in a catch 22 (*2). For the process to work (or at least to have a better chance), many people had to believe it could make an impact. Since many did not believe, they did not participate, ergo it made no impact (*3). It just fizzled out. It’s like with consumer confidence. When high, consumers buy. When low they don’t. If many consumers come to doubt and fear the worst, they stop buying, and help make the worst more likely.
And there is another huge obstacle for centrists to overcome. In comparison to the left and the right, centrist passion is lacking to begin with. We are too reasonable, too drawn to such notions as “moderation in all things, ” uncomfortable chanting slogans. Can you imagine us marching about shouting: “Moderation in all things! Moderation in all things!”
Not a gut grabber.
In contrast, those on the far left and far right feel lots of passion for their positions. Those on the left imagine unfortunates trampled by a heartless system. They are for the people. Those on the right imagine themselves as the unfortunates, having their lives constricted and fortunes reduced by a faceless bureaucracy whose prime mission is to take their money and waste it, usually on those undeserving folks that the left so loves.
Not an upbeat picture for centrists I’m painting. I know. But we have to start where we are. And it is not entirely bleak. There are a number of centrist efforts afoot, and many, many reasonable people from center left to center right who I think would be able to come up with compromises if somehow our political system could be restructured to allow for it.
I am one centrist who feels passionate about these issues because I believe we must collectively come up with some big answers to big problems or this nation will bear little resemblance to the one I grew up in. If you do not feel passionate, consider these words by the novelist Bernard Malamud. “Man is passionate by nature. If he does not act passionately, it is because he is confused.”
If you haven’t gathered by now, this blog is aimed at clarifying our confusion, so that over time we may act together passionately.
(*1) “Moderation in all things” is not a commandment, but an attitude. Most of us aren’t moderate in some things, and maybe we are right when we are not. I see centrists in agreement over a number of issues, at least to the point where an honest discussion can take place, as opposed to the posturing and misinformation which now prevails.
(*2) Catch 22 was a popular novel decades ago, if you aren’t aware of it.
It’s title became a catchword to describe being trapped in a dilemma, with no way out. It you want to know more, click explanation.
(*3) It may be that the process stalled primarily because few even noticed it. It would be interesting to know how many people even checked out their web site. Many of my friends never heard of it.