"Things fall apart…"

Krugman notes that the health-care debate is being rewritten to paint the “centrists” in a flattering light:

“The real story, of pretend moderates stalling action by pretending to be persuadable, has been rewritten as a story of how those DF hippies got in the way, until the centrists saved the day.”

I have never liked how the mainstream political reporters tend to use “centrist” as a synonym for “good”. As I’ve said, I dislike the Left-Center-Right model of politics that everybody uses, though it’s virtually impossible to avoid falling back on it to make generalizations and I have done so myself many times.

The first and most obvious problem is figuring out where this supposed center is. The geometry metaphor collapses in view of the fact there is no means of precisely measuring where one mixture of political views lies from another.

Truly, though, this does not matter that much. The center is not so much a place on the political spectrum as it is a state of mind about the political spectrum. It is, in fact, the one which permits of the existence of a political spectrum.

I think what gives the “centrist” concept its popularity is the fact that most people feel instinctively that is unlikely the platform of one party could be perfectly correct, and the other totally incorrect. The obvious resolution to this is to take some mixture between the two parties and call it the center and look for someone who fits in it.

Now, this isn’t a bad idea, really; and I can see how people thought it up. “Politics is the art of the possible,” as Bismarck is supposed to have said, and Western-European and American democracies are such that what is “possible” requires the agreement of two parties who disagree on everything. Hence, a candidate from one party ought to have something that appeals to people in the other.

But the problem is that eventually, people–and by that I mean the Washington Press Corps–internalize the concept of centrism to such an extent that they begin to lose the ability to think in any other terms, and centrism becomes an end in itself. At that point, it no longer matters what the two parties want, only that politicians govern from the center of it.

As you’ve probably guessed, my dislike for this left-center-right trichotomy is what prompted me to begin to use terms like “Nationalism”, “Cosmopolitanism” and “Materialism” instead. While they don’t totally eliminate the need for the old terms–you could use a sentence like “The Left is increasingly Cosmopolitan”–I’d like to they believe that they focus more on what the parties actually do, as opposed to defining them solely in terms of their relation to the other parties.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?