By Martin Bosworth
Yesterday I came across a Daily KOS diary written by “Bonddad” (aka Hale Stewart), a prominent economics blogger and writer who also has his own blog space. Hale’s a very smart man who’s forgotten more about the markets than I’ll ever know, and I had the pleasure of getting his expertise for a story I wrote a few years back on the declining fortunes of the middle class. So when he speaks, I generally give it a listen.
The central thesis of his diary is that the Dems are not only failing to capitalize on their successes in the 2006 elections, but they’re fast proving themselves to be as bad as their foes across the aisle when it comes to making real change:
At the heart of my discontent/discord is this: I’m a centrist. I fall under the socially liberal, fiscally conservative banner and no one — I repeat no one — is talking to me. The Republicans are completely beholden to the religious right and their twisted version of how to create a theocracy. And the Democrats have a really annoying anti-business bias that I disagree with. Business does not equal Satan.
What makes this interesting is that if you were to ask someone like David Sirota, for instance, what they thought of the current Dem landscape, he’d tell you that they are ANYTHING but anti-business. And of course, I threw my support behind Matt Taibbi’s screed that modern liberalism has abandoned the working class and populism, and that progressive ideas need to be about the economic and social in equal measure.
So, are we ALL right? Can the Democratic party be simultaneously pro-and-anti-business? Yes, definitely. Much like any large movement, it’s going to have factions and wings that sometimes conflict with each other. You can’t paint the Dems with the same broad brush, any more than you can “The Media,” “The Military,” etc. They’re too big and too diverse for that.
But more than that, I think this exposes the false concept of “the center.” People worship and fetishize the idea of “the center” as the Nirvana that all politicians must strive for. “Does it play to the center?” “Will it appeal to the center?” What the hell IS the center?
The center, to me, is whatever the speaker thinks it is. Bonddad believes in fiscal conservatism and social liberalism, so to him, that’s the center. Sirota may think it’s something different. And I bet if you asked me and my fellow Scholars & Rogues what the center was, you’d get a dozen different answers.
This is the political expression of our egoistic, individualized, atomized society. We position ourselves as the center of the world, and therefore all our cultural and political endeavors radiate outward from what we believe. We, naturally, think of ourselves as being right and rational, so any politician or leader who espouses ideas we agree with must be the right one. The further someone deviates from what we want to be true, the less of a “centrist” and more of a “radical wacko” they are.
I’m a progressive. I KNOW I am not even close to what American politics might consider the center. I’m getting the rest of the world to catch up to me and those like me, in fact. And when they do, will we be the center? I don’t know. And I don’t think it really matters. I think all that matters are the ideas and how they can be put into action. Our leaders should be those who are willing to plant their flag far beyond what the masses believe. That’s why they lead.
So the next time you hear someone talk about being a centrist or the importance of playing to the center, ask them what the center IS. In fact, ask the next five someones what the center is. You’re bound to get five different answers. 🙂