Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Everything in Moderation?

"All that's missing from a centrist movement that could be formidable is a leader.


Kathleen Parker argued in yesterday's Washington Post that there is a need and a desire for a moderate or centrist political movement to counter the more vocal Left and Right. This is a fairly common complaint today, that extremists have hijacked both parties and those in the middle have nowhere to go. If only these people had more influence in Washington or the state capital, partisan bickering would be put on the back burner and we could get down to fixing the problems we see today.

I'm not the kind of person who hates bursting bubbles. This is a big bubble and I'm armed with the pointy pin of reason.

The short of it is, the middle has nothing to coalesce around. The American Voter, published in 1960, is a remarkable work describing the factors that influence voting patterns in our nation. Despite being fifty years old, I am certain the same factors are still dominant and I would wager the percentage of people who are ideologically consistent (or who possess an ideology at all) compared to those with little to no political thought has not changed significantly. The people who pay close attention to what is going on and have principles to judge those facts by are primarily located on the wings of the political spectrum; those who know roughly nothing of what is going on gravitate towards the center.

"Moderates" or centrists in this nation believe so many contradictory things that it is impossible in theory or in practice to create a viable political movement out of this material. By moderate, we generally mean someone who is not aligned with either political party. Let me give you an example with four voters and two issues: abortion and the death penalty.

Voter A supports abortion, not the death penalty.
Voter B opposes abortion, supports the death penalty.
Voter C supports both abortion and the death penalty.
Voter D opposes both abortion and the death penalty.

This is very simplified, but it shows the problem. If you wish to create a movement based on these people, you have to get a large chunk of them to want to belong to the movement, i.e. they agree with the position of the movement on whatever issue they care about. With the above four voters, you can't build any support around any position without alienating half of the moderates.

Moderates will never form a political movement because they have no idea where they (and the country) should move to. These centrists take pride in the fact that they are not "ideologically blind;" ironically, they have the least clear political philosophy and tend to think least about politics in general. For the most part, people know where Republicans and Democrats stand on particular issues; nobody knows where the moderates stand, not even the moderates.

When your group is defined by a lack of political philosophy, it should come as no surprise that people are not rallying around your cause. You don't have one. Ms. Parker wants a leader, but where will this leader take them? Moderates are notorious for, and indeed defined by, not being predictable in their political positions. People will only follow a leader if they think they know where that leader plans to take them.

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