Here’s what I mean when I say I’m a ‘centrist’

I’m trying to blog smarter by converting long comments into separate posts. Here’s the latest.

In this case, I had — in the interest of using words economically — referred to myself as a “centrist,” as I frequently do. Both Bud and Harry Harris took exception to the reference.

I replied

Dang, dang, dang! I wrote this somewhat involved, extremely insightful comment a little while ago on my iPad, and lost wifi in the middle of saving it. Let me see if I can reconstruct…

Of course I’m a centrist, to the point that the term has meaning (more on that in a second). I’m an adherent of the postwar governing consensus, the area that Clinton and Blair tried to get us back to in the 90s. I disagree with those who would pull us way from it.

That said, “left,” “right” and “center” are fairly silly terms. I really don’t HAVE a comfortable place on the artificial left-right continuum, and trying to place me, or anyone who THINKS about issues rather than buying them off the shelf prepackaged, on that line can present problems. But since I’m not “left” or “right,” “center” is a convenient term to use.

It’s also convenient because I am for CORE values, not those on the fringes. Here’s what I mean by that…

Government is about solving problems together, or at least efficiently providing those basic functions that we have general agreement government should handle. So I’m interested in areas where the parties overlap, not the areas where they pull away from consensus. We need to identify and build upon those areas where we can work together. And if we get good enough at that, maybe we can branch out to some of the tough subjects.

For that reason, I generally don’t like dealing with Culture War stuff, and get upset when it looks like an election is going to be about such things. Bud says, for instance, he assumes I “still advocate” for traditional marriage. I wasn’t aware I HAD been advocating on that subject. At all. He also mentioned Blue Laws. At one point some years back I made a gentle, passing reference to the fact that opposition to blue laws is one of the sillier overinterpretations of the 1st Amendment’s Establishment clause. Having a sensible agreement to have a day without commerce and hustle-bustle is hardly thrusting a particular form of religion on anyone. It’s just a gesture to basic human sanity. And I say that whenever Doug and Bud bring it up, which they do a LOT, because such a sensible suggestion is DEEPLY offensive to their libertarian reflexes. But I can’t recall advocating or campaigning for such. The most I’ve said is that it’s a shame to see such a life-calming custom go away.

Seriously, when I start campaigning for something, everyone can tell. (See: Confederate flag.)

But back to my point — I don’t see it as productive to invest a lot of political capital in those things, because the fights over them drive us apart and make it harder to agree on the things that should be easy.

The problem these days is that the parties and associated interest groups have polarized us so much that the area of consensus has gotten smaller and smaller.

Bud thinks this is a GREAT year. Well, in a couple of ways it is, but not the ways he thinks.

First, among thoughtful, informed participants and observers, there’s a greater willingness to step out from the stupid left-right, Democratic-Republican dichotomy and consider candidates on their merits. Once people do that, you see the Bushes (whom Bud despises so much), Graham, Sasse, Romney, et al., distancing themselves from Trump or opposing him outright. The latest encouraging manifestation of that is Meg Whitman declaring for Hillary, and the formation of a PAC to encourage Republicans to vote for the lesser of two weevils.

Sure, there are still plenty of Republicans out there who think this is a normal, left-v.-right election and anyone who would support anyone but Trump is a liberal Democrat and therefore the enemy. But I prefer to celebrate the people out there who GET IT.

Also, with Trump as their standard-bearer the GOP has so abandoned the flag-and-country ground that the Democrats were able to co-opt it and position themselves as the party of traditional patriotism last week. In other words, the Dems celebrated the things that used to unite us all, rather than just concentrating on differences (the usual Identity Politics and class warfare stuff).

Of course, this deeply offended the centrifugal forces of our politics, who want to see us fly apart. For instance, Gen. Allen’s speech offended both the military-hating portions of the left and the Democrat-hating elements on the right.

But these are positive developments, to a “centrist” like me…


15 thoughts on “Here’s what I mean when I say I’m a ‘centrist’

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Here’s an example of the way I try to keep divisive issues from being counterproductive, pulling us away from the “center…”

    In all the years I directed the editorial board of The State, I don’t think we ever had a substantive conversation about abortion. Not even once. And here’s the reason…

    South Carolina has a lot of basic challenges — economic development, the need for better education, an inefficient tax structure, a governmental structure that militates against effectiveness and accountability, and so forth. I mean, look at how hard it is just to agree on how to fund our roads. THOSE are the things that deserve all the energy we can devote to working toward sensible agreement.

    Battles over abortion divide us into “us” and “them” camps, and change no one’s minds.

    So, in all those years, we never had an editorial on the subject. Nor did we discuss writing one. We worked on achieving and maintaining consensus on the issues we could DO something about. And we saw no point in alienating people unnecessarily, so that they refused to listen to us on the basic, common-sense stuff that should not be divisive (but too often is).

    We saved our powder for the things that there was SOME chance of agreement and movement on.

    If I recall correctly, the position of the editorial board before me was “pro-choice.” I suppose it still is, since I never tried to change that. But we didn’t assert that position while I was there, and I don’t think you’ve seen the paper address it since. What would be the point?

    1. Doug Ross

      “What would be the point?”

      Accepting the will of the people even though you disagree with it personally? That would be the proper way to put the issue to rest.

        1. Doug Ross

          I know being an editorial writer means never having to admit you’re wrong or out of touch with the sentiments of the public, but wouldn’t it be nice to see an editorial in The State that said, “While we disagree with the law that offers women the right to choose abortion, we understand that it is the law and in the spirit of our desire to see people come together, accept that the will of the people has been decided.” That would be very communitarian wouldn’t it?

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            But they wouldn’t say that. Cindi, if I recall from casual conversations long ago, is pro-choice. Or was.

            But she agrees with me completely that it’s best to concentrate on issues that MAYBE we can do something about. If anything, she believes it more strongly. She’s very task-oriented, and doesn’t like having a meeting or a conversation or anything that doesn’t lead to something getting done…

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Oh, and it wouldn’t be true to say that stuff about the “will of the people.” Folks are as divided over abortion as they ever were, which is precisely why it’s counterproductive to waste precious editorial capital on the issue.

            What people who want pro-life people to shut up say is “settled law.” They want everyone to agree to that. That’s far more defensible than “will of the people.” Following the will of the people, rather than the will of the courts, would take pro-choice folks somewhere they don’t want to go…

  2. Jeff Mobley

    While I do agree that the left-right spectrum is somewhat “artificial”, particularly with regard to some issues, I also believe that it is quite possible for someone “who THINKS about issues” to find himself, after a great deal of THINKing, decidedly closer to one end of the spectrum than to the other.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author


      My problem is, the things each party embraces are for me inconsistent. They don’t hang together. So you take one issue, and maybe that nudges me toward one party. Then another issue nudges me toward the other. Then there’s another in which I think both have good points, and another where I think both are totally wrong.

      And that’s assuming the individual positions are clear and coherent themselves, which is not always the case.

      Anytime I think I’m drifting toward one or the other, I’ll think of a dealbreaker, and I’m farther away than ever…

    2. bud

      I whole heartedly believe the Dems are more correct on the issues than the GOP. But it’s more fundamental than that. The GOP has deteriorated into a mob hell bent on obstructionism. They’ve lost the ability to compromise. No amount of false equivalencey will change that. Enablers like Brad have helped create the Frankentrump monster.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Absolutely not.

        It takes someone like me, who is as likely to favor the candidate of one party as the other, to draw the distinction and point out credibly just how unthinkable Trump is.

        If Bud does it, people can say, “So what? He’s ALWAYS against the Republican!” The dangerous kind of “false equivalence” is when you say all Republicans are bad. This is a moment for discernment and discrimination. It is ESSENTIAL that the nation sees that this is not party politics as usual…

  3. bud

    I’m not going to find false equivalency just so I’ll preserve some kind credibility in the debate arena. But ok I’ll play along. I find the Republican position on affirmative action generally superior to the Dems. There, I agree with the GOP on something. Does that mean my opinion on other issues will now carry more weight? Will Bryan suddenly value my views on guns? Or will Doug suddenly sing the praises for higher taxes on the wealthy because of something I say about it? It’s really a bizarre way to address the issues of the world to constantly seek acceptance on the basis of equivalencey, false or otherwise.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      “Will Bryan suddenly value my views on guns?”

      I always welcome your views, even when I think you’re wrong. Having a healthy debate about public policy is a good thing. I believe that you truly want to do what is possible to make the country a better place, as do I. We just disagree about the best way to do that.

      By the way, in semi-related news, I finally hit my physical fitness goal yesterday, so I can buy the Henry rifle I’ve set as my reward.

      It cracks me up that in a recent poll, 40% of Democrats think a lever action rifle should be made illegal.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        They should be banned in the Geneva Convention. Those repeaters gave Yankee cavalry an unfair advantage.

        Rifles that fire promiscuously are not honorable, saith the Raizuli…


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