Monday, January 11, 2010

Centrism and Supporting the President

Last week I assessed the first year of the Obama administration in five areas. My assessment is largely positive. These posts drew a variety of criticisms. I answered most of the specific criticisms in the comment area of each post. Today I want to address some general criticisms.

Some readers thought that being centrist meant that I should not support any party. I wrote:

Ideologically I am a centrist. I support and criticize based on position, not party. I usually find more to support on the Democratic side, and more to criticize on the Republican side. That is how I picked my party. I hope that is how anyone would pick his or her party.

carter said...

I agree. Most people find more to support on one side or the other then choose a party. Does that mean everyone is a centrist? Since you seem to agree 90 percnt or more of the time with the left why call youself a centrist? Name five other centrist sociologists. How do you define centist?

This give me a good opportunity to clarify the relationship between centrism and ideology, as well as centrism and party. I think the left and the right are small, while most people fall in the center. I do not think that anyone who is not a conservative is a liberal, nor vice-versa. However, there are essentially only two parties, which these three positions are obliged to choose among. Liberals who wish to be politically effective work with the Democratic Party; conservatives who wish to be politically effective work with the Republican Party. Centrists are obliged to choose. There are a large number of centrist Republicans, and an even larger number of centrist Democrats, including me.

One of the defining characteristics of centrists is that we believe there are many possible middle positions in every contested issue. Centrist political discussion consists of weighing the pros and cons of these middle options and choosing among them for good reasons - or at least reasons that can be explained to others. Since we must choose among positions for public reasons, centrists are less likely to simply follow a party line.

Which brings me to a second line of criticism I received.

pam said...

Mr. Gruntled it is painfully obvious you have drunk the Obama Kool-aid.

You are in danger of loosing your centrist credentials.

  • Delete
  • Blogger Gruntled said...
  • Pam: could you be more specific in your criticism?

  • Anonymous pam said...
  • It is becoming kind of humorous.Virtually Obama's every shortcoming is blamed on Bush. It makes Obama look weak and you look a little whiney. Will it ever stop? I can only hope. It is distracting.
    All four of you first year "centrist reports" Blame Bush in one way or another.

  • DeleteGruntled said...
  • Which shortcomings do you have in mind? I think I have been naming strengths and achievements of the Obama administration.

    President Obama has, indeed, had to spend more time fixing mistakes of the previous administration so far than on developing his positive program. I don't call these mistakes simply because they were made by the previous administration, but because I think they were mistakes. Do you think torture by our government was a good thing, or a mistake?

  • Anonymous pam said...
  • There you go make my point.

  • Centrism does not mean being wishy-washy. Centrism is just as firm a basis for judgment as any other position. When it comes to presidents, everyone - left, right, and center - is obliged to make some substantive judgments about whether the president's positions and actions are good or not. Making such a judgment does mean you lose your centrist credentials. Neither does it mean you are a partisan.

    Moreover, each president has to respond to the previous administration's actions. Sometimes they build on their predecessor's strengths, and sometimes they correct their predecessor's mistakes. Centrists, and everyone else, need to make a substantive judgment about whether the prior administration's actions were strengths or mistakes, and whether the current administration is building on the past for better or worse.

    Centrists are not partisans. We do not drink anyone's Kool-Aid.


    Anonymous said...

    For clarity, if you would, name a dozen or so elected officials you consider to be centrist.

    Gruntled said...

    It is harder for elected officials to be consistently centrist, because party discipline sometimes pushes them to polar positions they may not personally embrace.

    Nonetheless, I think for structural reasons that most remaining southern Democrats and northeastern Republicans in Congress are centrists.

    Anonymous said...

    That makes sense. What about centrist political pundits in the media? Thanks.

    Gruntled said...

    Same structural principle: the house conservative in a liberal organ, or the house liberal at a conservative organ. David Brooks at the New York Times would be an example of the former; Alan Combs at Fox News as a past example of the latter.