Just what is a “Centrist”?

2009 April 25
by ruleoflawrestoration

Continuing on the topic of political labeling, I thought it would be good to address the title of “Centrist”.

Here are a few definitions I found at Google:

  • a person who takes a position in the political center
  • supporting or pursuing a course of action that is neither liberal nor conservative
    wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn
  • In politics, centrism usually refers to the political ideal of promoting moderate policies which land in the middle ground between different political extremes. …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centrist
  • A person who advocates centrism; Of, pertaining to, or advocating centrism
    en.wiktionary.org/wiki/centrist
  • centrism – a political philosophy of avoiding the extremes of left and right by taking a moderate position or course of action
    wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

At first blush, this seems sensible enough.  We have the “left” and we have the “right”, and in between them, we have the “center”.  So that’s it.  End of topic.

Or so we think.

After considering this notion, however, it simply does not work in the real world.  If “Centrist” means “neither left nor right”, then we would be forced to understand some such diagram as the following:

There are some problems with this model, however.  First of all, if there is a “left” and a “right”, the center (the red dot above) has to represent something; it has to represent the point from which the “left” and “right” moved after the beginning of time.  That is, after the time the Constitution was adopted.  And while this model may work with regard to the Constitution, it most certainly does not work with regard to “left” and “right”, as I shall show below.

It is not as if the Framers sought to make a Constitution over which the “left” and “right” could eternally squabble—leaving us with an unstable system that was ever to be under attack by opposing partisan agendas.  No, their intent was to hash it out in the beginning such that a system that was fair and equitable for all could be implemented from the get-go.  So the starting point in the diagram above simply must represent the Constitution.  Remember, in the very beginning, there were no organized political parties as we have now, and not even a hint of a “two-party system of government” was written into the Constitution.

Again, we must consider this phenomenon of “left” and “right” always with the starting point in mind, since this is a study in history.  Now I haven’t forgotten that we’re talking about “Centrists” right now, but to get to that, I must first show that such a diagram as we see above does indeed misrepresent the true nature of the “leftist” and “rightist”.

Let us assume for a moment that “Democrat” is generally equal to “leftist” and “Republican” is generally equal to “rightist”.  Whether this is true or not, who can say?  But clearly, this is the way the nation generally uses such terms.  Is it not?

In reality, therefore, we find that this diagram changes drastically, depending on the topic on the table in Congress at any given time.  For instance, when Congress voted to pass the USA Patriot Act in 2001, here’s how “left” and “right” behaved:

Both “sides” voted remarkably like each other.  But if they voted the same, did they not lose their distinction as “left” and “right”?  Thus we see that “left” and “right” are poor and unreliable labels.  In Washington, of course, they’d call this particular passage a “bi-partisan” or a “non-partisan” effort.  But even so, the “left” didn’t act like the “left” and the “right” didn’t act like the “right”.

Surely someone will say that they did each act as themselves.  Or perhaps that one acted as itself and the other acted out of character because of the extreme circumstances following September 11, 2001.  This leaves us at least with the idea that one term or the other doesn’t always mean the same thing.  And when terms don’t always mean the same thing, they are useless.

But even so, in this particular vote where the “two parties” were so remarkably united, where were the “Centrists”?  What would a “Centrist” have thought about the USA Patriot Act?  Remember, the popular definition of Centrist is “neither right nor left”.  Doesn’t it follow, then, that any Centrist would have opposed the USA Patriot Act?

And so the contradictions continue.  Republican Senator John McCain, for instance, has long been known as a “Centrist”, yet he voted in favor of the USA Patriot Act.  At the time, Senator Hillary Clinton was also known as a “Centrist”, yet she voted for the USA Patriot act, too.  So how can you be “neither left nor right” and vote in complete agreement with both the “left” and the “right” at the same time?

All this just goes to show how worthless these labels are.

Before we leave the topic, however, let me point out that there are times when the Republicans want to violate the Constitution in one particular way and are opposed by the Democrats for it.  Then in other instances, the roles are reversed.  How, then, can they still hold these “left” and “right” distinctions if they are each sometimes at the original starting point of the Constitution on some given issue?

If “Centrist” could really have a meaning, it should mean the same as “Constitutionalist”.  Clearly, however, it does not, for so-called “Centrists” such as John McCain violate the Constitution quite often.

If these terms, therefore, are so ethereal as not to have any real meaning, why do we insist so much on keeping them around?

Generally, by “Centrist” most normal Americans mean, “Sometimes I like what the Democrats want and sometimes I like what the Republicans want.”  This, however, tells us absolutely nothing about the foundations of the person’s political philosophy.  Do you have any guiding principles at all, or do you just float with the wind, landing wherever the wind takes you?

I know that such terms will still be in use long after I’m dead and gone, but I, for one, wish dearly that it were not so.  The use of such terminology is an exercise in meaninglessness.  It is the grand assumption that we are saying something of value to people who understand our exact meaning.  Yet the only thing we communicate, ultimately speaking, is that we are talking to people who do not care to understand words, and that they are being talked to by people who don’t care, either.

Exact meaning, however, in the realm of politics, is a dangerous thing, my friends.  What better place, therefore, for meaningless Doublespeak?

When a person christens himself with a political label, he ought honor himself enough to know exactly what that label means.  Moreover, there is greater honor yet in knowing, before donning a label, what one believes and why he believes it.

If you’re looking for a political identity, I’d like to suggest three fairly concrete terms.  I say “fairly” because one of the definitions is rock-solid, and the other two are moving targets of a sort, but still somewhat definable.  Let me explain:

  1. Constitutionalist. This is the rock-solid term.  For this term, the definition is in the text of the Constitution.  I don’t mean to imply that the term itself is defined therein.  Rather, the Constitution itself is a finite and fixed document that says only what it says, and no more.  Thus, someone whose political philosophy is to keep to the Constitution has, therefore, a fixed position.  And if such a person has a criticism of the Constitution, even then he has recourse, for the Constitution allows for amendments, provided 3/4 of the States will concur.
  2. Democrat. The definition I have in mind for “Democrat” is not concrete like that of Constitutionalist above, but it is consistent.  I use this definition only for those who are in office as Democrats, and not necessarily for the rank-and-file voters.  My definition of Democrat, in this limited context, is one who does the bidding of the Democratic Party’s leadership.  That leadership may not give the same orders year after year, but whatever the orders are, so goes the vote and/or actions of the official.
  3. Republican. This definition would be exactly like that of Democrat above, except that the Republican does the bidding of the leadership of the Republican Party.

So we have three groups:  Those who do the bidding of the fixed and finite Constitution, and those who do the bidding of the two major parties.

And where does “Centrist” fall into this spectrum?

It really doesn’t.

Enough said about the “Centrist” term.

Now just a bit more about this impossible model of “left” and “right”. Are we to assume that of 300,000,000 Americans, only two distinct political philosophies exist?

So why aren’t there other parties in play?  I don’t mean the tiny parties such as the Constitution Party or the Libertarian Party.  Why aren’t there any other contenders out there?

For one thing, having only a “left” and “right” makes things very easy to manage for those who own the “left” and the “right”.  Two’s company; three’s a crowd, if you know what I mean.

And besides that, the two best names are already taken.  Since we already have “Leftists” and “Rightists” (Yes, I know they don’t call themselves “Rightists”, but they should!), then what’s left?  Skewists?

The very notion that there are but two prominent leanings is absurd.  And that these two popular leanings cannot ever be trusted to lean consistently is evidence that giving them a directional name makes for a misnomer.

This political lingo is all fabricated for the sake of the unthinking masses who simply want something to be called, and something to call others.

No wonder people who don’t fit conveniently into the established norms are simply labeled as “kooks”.  In my mind, however, anybody who uses a term that he cannot define consistently over time is the one whose mental soundness should be examined.

The fact of the matter is that most Americans don’t really have much idea what they believe.  It’s much easier simply to pick your favorite team and follow blindly along.  It is as unprincipled an endeavor as picking one’s favorite sports team based upon the look of the uniforms.  But perhaps I have hit upon a worthy parallel here, for it seems to make about as much difference, too.

If we pull for the Republicans, we end up violating the Constitution.  And if we pull for the Democrats, we end up violating the Constitution.  And the “Centrists” (whatever that’s supposed to mean)—well isn’t it funny that they generally attach themselves to one of the two parties to whose philosophy they are, by definition, always contrary?

It’s time to throw all this gobbledygook into the trash can and do some fresh analysis.  And the only place from which to start, my friends, is the Constitution.  There is simply no other reasonable point of reference.

The Constitution is the only true “Center” we can have.

Jack Pelham

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. Glenn Langdon of West Virginia permalink
    May 8, 2009

    A very well thought out article and I do appreciate your insight. I would agree with your views on the two major parties almost entirely if we were looking only at the national level; however, I am a republican with very conservative values (I hold to the constitution), and I know MANY others in my state that are the same. It is our mission to bring back the party to its roots.

    Instead of dividing into multiple 3rd parties, with limited ballot access, that stand no chance of competing in any reasonable amount of time (we don’t have much time), it is more feasible, with our numbers, to take back the republican party and restore it to its principles of constitutional government. Ron Paul swelled the party’s numbers in his bid for the White House, but then when he was rejected by the mainstream propagandites everyone split up only to vote against each other. That is exactly what the establishment wanted to see – I’m sure they celebrated. Classic divide and conquer.

    The Republican Party has a lot of work to be done within it, especially at the higher levels, but it has something that no 3rd party does: complete ballot access. If we could all stay together as one voting bloc in one party we could be a force to be reckoned with. We would continue to grow and we would BECOME the party. Those “propagandites” would become the minority in the party and they could be the ones to leave instead of us.

    My concern with your article is that it serves to further divide us into all of these ineffective subgroups. Many of us are out there every day, working hard to restore the Republican Party. I know you mean well but I see only the feelings of disenfranchisement. I don’t see an effective plan. I cannot reiterate enough that we must all stick together and vote together. If there were one valid 3rd party that had equal competitive ballot access, I would applaud it and those in it. I’m afraid we’re a million miles away from that, though. The Republican Party is what we have. Let’s become it!

  2. ruleoflawrevolution permalink
    May 8, 2009

    Glenn,
    Thanks for taking the time to engage in the conversation. In a multitude of various conversations, I’ve considered at some point in the past just about every point that you raise. Let me present for you some alternative views.

    You wrote:

    ====A very well thought out article and I do appreciate your insight. I would agree with your views on the two major parties almost entirely if we were looking only at the national level; however, I am a republican with very conservative values (I hold to the constitution), and I know MANY others in my state that are the same. It is our mission to bring back the party to its roots.====

    It seems that you are admitting that there is a division between the state and federal levels of the Republican Party. I ask you, which is in charge? Surely it is the ones who are in charge who will prevail in any disagreement, is it not?

    Secondly, if you, from the state level, cannot control the misdeeds of the Republican Party members in the Congress, then why do you tolerate such a party?

    The problem is not that “we” simply need to try harder; it is that the system is flawed by design, and can never succeed to bring about what you wish.

    You say:
    =====”It’s our mission to bring the party back to its roots.”=====

    OK, how’s that going? And how long has that been going on? And why is there any reason to hope that it’s suddenly going to start working after so much evidence that the party is indeed incorrigible?

    You wrote:

    ====Instead of dividing into multiple 3rd parties, with limited ballot access, that stand no chance of competing in any reasonable amount of time (we don’t have much time), it is more feasible, with our numbers, to take back the republican party and restore it to its principles of constitutional government.====

    I don’t think that either is feasible. The Republican Party leadership is simply not interested in significant reform, and no third party can raise enough steam by 2010 to get anything done. Not without the most massive public education campaign in the history of the nation. Something much more lightweight and agile is needed. I planned for this when designing the Rule of Law Revolution.

    You wrote:
    ======Ron Paul swelled the party’s numbers in his bid for the White House, but then when he was rejected by the mainstream propagandites everyone split up only to vote against each other. That is exactly what the establishment wanted to see=====

    Yes, but the “establishment” most certainly includes the leadership of the Republican Party, too…..the very party you are wanting to continue to support. Besides that, it shows a failure in Dr. Paul’s strategy (that his people split up). His fundamental goal seems to have been met—-that is, he raised awareness. But the result was quite like Lincoln’s stinging note to McClellan, who was ever drilling his troops and not taking them into battle:

    “General, if you’re not going to use your Army, do you mind if I borrow it for a while?” A. Lincoln

    In the gradient between a viable political movement and a cult of personality, Ron Paul’s movement proved to be too close to the latter. Once he was out of the race, they scattered to the four winds. The excitement of having an attractive candidate was infectious, but the real need was to found a lasting movement of principle that would not be easily shaken if early victory were elusive.

    You wrote:
    =====The Republican Party has a lot of work to be done within it, especially at the higher levels, but it has something that no 3rd party does: complete ballot access.=====

    This is no reason to support the Republican Party. Rather, it is a reason to toss them out of power, along with the Democrats. There is no “two-party system” in the Constitution. That the American people have put up with one is a testament to their irresponsible passivity and ignorance. Again, this is a reason to starve the Republican Party, rather than one to feed it. But you’ll never transform it.

    There are far too many people making way too much money off of the Party as it is to let you do anything to challenge their enterprise. The only way to challenge them is to take them out of the game.

    You wrote:
    =====If we could all stay together as one voting bloc in one party we could be a force to be reckoned with. =====

    This is exactly the kind of thinking that has kept the Republican Party as strong as it is (the Democrats, too). I, for one, will never again vote for a candidate who has taken part in disobeying the Constitution—unless, perhaps, he has forthrightly admitted the error and vows never to do it again.

    But when it comes to voting, I don’t care if a candidate is the “lesser of two evils” or not. Would you rather have one poke in the eye with a sharp stick, or two pokes in the eye with a sharp stick? I, for one, will vote only for NO pokes in the eye with a sharp stick. Show me that candidate, and I’ll vote for him. But don’t ask me to be part of a bloc voting for the LO2E party when I know full well that this means we still go down the slippery slope of constitutional disobedience.

    You wrote:
    =====My concern with your article is that it serves to further divide us into all of these ineffective subgroups.=====

    My article shines a light on division that already exists. I have divided no one.

    You wrote:
    ======Many of us are out there every day, working hard to restore the Republican Party. =====

    And how’s that going?

    It’s not just that you need more workers; it’s that the system is flawed by design and can never achieve what you wish. These men and women simply will not let you turn their Republican Party into a constitutionalist party. They are not afraid of you, and they actually benefit the longer you stay and “fight for change” in their party. The plan, of course, is that you would encourage others to stay, too.

    You wrote:
    =====I know you mean well but I see only the feelings of disenfranchisement. I don’t see an effective plan. I cannot reiterate enough that we must all stick together and vote together.======

    Our current mess is the exact result of this kind of thinking. And I would remind you that we were already in an AWFUL mess after 8 years of W and six years of Republican-controlled Congress.

    You wrote:
    =====If there were one valid 3rd party that had equal competitive ballot access, I would applaud it and those in it. =====

    That’s not needed. Under the Rule of Law Revolution strategy, candidates who pledge loyalty to the Constitution and who pledge not to exceed the powers of the office they are seeking can run under any party they choose. If all candidates took this pledge and abided by it, it would very much take the wind out of the sails of the “two-party system”.

    You wrote:
    ======The Republican Party is what we have. Let’s become it!=====

    I’m working on a piece on the recent history of voting in Congress, by party. Once I publish it, you’ll see how incorrigibly lawless your Republican Party is. (And the Democratic Party, too.)

    I submit that “Republican” can only be rightly defined by the actions of Republican incumbents on the FEDERAL level. So it matters very little what are the convictions of the average members of the RP at the local level. What are you supporting is federal disobedience to the Constitution.

    No matter what your wishes when you donate or vote for the guy with an “R” behind his name, you are contributing to the continued presence of this lawless party.

    Unless you have some amazing and wholesale plan to eradicate all lawlessness from the RP, I don’t see where you’re going to be in any different position in 2010 or 2020, either. But if you’re really adamant, please go find some Republican candidates and get them to sign the Rule of Law Pledges.

    Meanwhile, the Rule of Law Revolution provides a way for the average voter, regardless of party, to put out the call for candidates who will put government back under the governance of the Constitution. And it provides a way for candidates to become known to those voters.

    What more do we need than that?

    The ballot access is not an issue. No new party needs to be formed. Billions of dollars are not required.

    Sounds like a viable plan to me!

    Jack

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