Wednesday, October 11, 2006

How the Center IS Vital

Several weeks ago, I wrote that there is no vital center. Those that call ourselves centrists do not exist as an organized political force and cannot be organized because we share too little in common on a philosophical and even practical level. In the end, I said centrists either need to step back and develop a coherent philosophy or we all just need to join one of the two parties and work to change them from the inside.

After some extended thought on the matter, I stand by my conviction that centrists are not and will likely never be an organized force in American politics. But I believe I was too short-sighted in the options I laid out for centrists. I missed a key reality, best said by Dean Esmay in a recent post.

Dean said: Centrism doesn't really exist as a philosophy, but it's still vital.

And that may very well be the truth a lot of us centrists have missed in our drive to organize. Our vitality is not in speaking with a unified voice. Our vitality is in our very existence. As long as a great swath of America is made up of people who choose not to conform to the dogma of one party or the other, both parties will have to be mindful of us. Those of us who give allegiance to no party require both parties to win our vote anew with each and every election.

The frustration, of course, is that both parties have become increasingly disinterested in voters outside of their base. In some ways, that’s the effect of gerrymandering, where too many districts are ideologically stacked to ensure a safe seat for the Democrats or Republicans. In other ways, the polarization is the effect of current events, with 9/11 being the boulder dropped in the lake, creating two large waves rushing away from one another.

Many have been caught up in the waves. Those of us who haven’t, feel left out. More than left out—we feel obliged to calm the currents, as if only those of us not caught up in the modern polarization have the clarity to end the polarization. Problem is, we are no less a product of our times than those we call partisans and ideologues. But where they have regimentation of ideas and real political power, we have a diffuse grouping of hermits, large in numbers but incapable of organization.

The truth of the matter is, in times of upheaval and realignment, the center’s vitality is not as a wall, thrown up to stop the advance of extremism. Instead, our vitality comes from our ability to hold firm, to not be drained and to still be here when the waters calm. That’s not to say we should sit quietly and wait. In fact, that’s to say the very opposite—that we should talk and talk loudly so that people know there is still a center in America.

We need not talk with one voice. We can be of a thousand, a million, ten million different minds. All that matters is that those in power remember that there are Americans who don’t conform to the political divides laid out by the two parties. There are people who may support the war but are pro-choice. Or who are against gay marriage but for heavily taxing the wealthy. Or who oppose free trade agreements while supporting privatizing social security.

The specifics don’t matter. What matters is for politicians and party loyalists to remember that we all won’t march in lockstep—that speaking just to “the base” may work right now, but it won't create long-term success. As the emotions of the day calm, those bases will shrink. But the center will still be here.

We need not be an organized force to achieve these ends. We may or may not be members of a political party. We may or may not have a core philosophy. But we must keep speaking—whether on the blogs, or in letters to representatives, or just to our fellow citizens. We CAN be vital without being organized.

It has taken me far too long to realize that.

1 Comments:

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