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April 09, 2012 10:58 AM Is the “Centrist” Brand Worth Fighting For?

By Ed Kilgore

In his latest column, entitled “The Gullible Center,” Paul Krugman does something rather odd. On the one hand, he very effectively demolishes the idea that Paul Ryan’s budget proposal represents anything other than a radically conservative agenda for the country, while establishing Barack Obama’s bona fides as the closest thing available to a “centrist” when it comes to a balanced approach to dealing with the budget and all the associated issues. On the other hand, he is so furious at “centrists” for their failure to figure all this out that he virtualy spits out the c-word as a epithet, a condemnation all the more sweeping because he does not name a single name, though I’m reasonably sure he has his New York Times collegue David Brooks in mind.

I know “centrism” is already an epithet to many progressives, representing that yellow stripe of cowardice in the middle of the road, stab-in-the-back triangulation, corporate whoredom, etc., etc. And for similar reasons, some people with views often described as “centrist” or “center-left” sometimes disclaim the term, implying as it does not a coherent or morally defensible point of view but a relative and wavering position between two fixed poles.

But to just regular folks out there—particularly the 35-45% of Americans identifying themselves as “moderates”—there’s some value in the brand, implying as it does a certain degree of reasonableness and perhaps even unpredictability. And as it happens, self-identified “moderates” are a much larger segment of the coalition that votes for Ds than the one that votes for Rs. Given that reality, does it make more sense for progressives to deny that people like David Brooks (much less Paul Ryan!) are “centrist” in any meaningful sense of the term, or instead to make the term itself so toxic that it’s ceded to crypto-conservatives because anyone to their left has stopped using it? That’s probably an easy question to answer for those who think an insufficiently loud-and-proud progressive message has kept Democrats from energizing their party base or awakening a “hidden” populist majority that sees no difference between “centrist” Democrats and conservative Republicans.

For those of us not so convinced that maximum polarization is an unambiguously good thing, or who believe that for all the many shortcomings associated with them, ideological “brands” do have some political value, then it’s not that great an idea to call both Barack Obama and David Brooks “centrists” in the same column, while trying to deny that one is at all like the other. In other words, it’s not helpful to be a mushy moderate in one’s definition of “centrism.” By all rights, the brand should belong to the Donkey Party right now—it it wants it—because it has been so decisively abandoned by the party of Paul Ryan. It’s better to police membership in the centrist camp than to burn it down.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • SadOldVet on April 09, 2012 11:20 AM:

    Another fine posting by Ed Kilgore attempting to rationalize and justify his DLC/DINO/Repuke-Lite history as a toady for the 'centrist' Harold Ford.

    For those of us not so convinced that maximum polarization is an unambiguously good thing... is a load of crap!!!

    Nice straw man Kilgore! Are you saying that everyone not a DLC/DINO/Repuke-Lite triangulating sellout believes in maximum polarization?

    For those of us not so convinced that pretending to be 'kinder and gentler' repuknicans is an unambiguously good thing...

  • Paul Dirks on April 09, 2012 11:28 AM:

    insufficiently loud-and-proud progressive message has kept Democrats from energizing their party base or awakening a “hidden” populist majority

    I think your clearly missing what the far left actually believes. It doesn't have to do with whether a particular policy can be labelled center or left. It's whether a particular action is helpful or harmful to the cause.

    Voting with the Republicans against Health Care Reform for instance doesn't make one moderate or centrist. It make one utterly useless.

  • DAY on April 09, 2012 11:36 AM:

    For "centrist" I would substitute "apolitical". Because the vast-VAST- majority of voters do not even begin to pay attention to politics until a few weeks before the first tuesday in November. And they are the ones who will decide the election. As I too often say, "he with the most yard signs, wins."

    That said, I guess I am a "centrist", although I prefer to call myself a Pragmatic Progressive. And a passionate one- as is everyone who comments here, and elsewhere!

  • arkie on April 09, 2012 11:37 AM:

    My unhappiness with "centrists" is the fact that consistently fail to see that Obama and most other Democrats are already in the center.

    "Centrists" define the center as the middle position between what ever it is Republicans are currently proposing and Democrats current position. When the Republicans move right, the "centrists" moves with them.

    "Centrists" do not have a rational, fact-based world view. The value the "center" over all else.

  • registeredguest on April 09, 2012 11:41 AM:

    Good post Sadoldvet, I've been reading the Monthly for years and since Steve left I've had the feeling it just isn't the same.

    This article by Kilgore goes a long way to explain why.

    Ed,

    Who among us thinks maximum polarization is a good thing? We on the left have stayed where we are while the right has extended their pole to the breaking point.

    I would bet most centrists or as some call them independents aren't really independent. They're just sheep sitting in the middle waiting until the last minute to be impressed by some showy atmospherics (such as landing on an aircraft wearing a codpiece) to persuade them.

    And Paul I like your post but I would not characterize the left as far left. There is no far left in the U.S. to speak of. The closest might be socialist Bernie Sanders.

    But you are correct we look for solutions that work. The far right (and there is a far right) only look for solutions that fit their ideology whether they work or not.

    Pretty much like the old Soviets who rejected science (re: Lysenko) that didn't fit their world view.

  • Andy Olsen on April 09, 2012 11:45 AM:

    When it comes to centrism it is like the 12 blind people describing an elephant. The term means so many different things it is meaningless. However, it has a sainted place in American politics for no real good reason. And that is worth coming to grips with.

    In practice, the centrist philosophy is an empty vessel, devoid of meaning or principle. So if the Donkey Party is supportive of that approach well, no surprises. They don't like to actually stand for things except re-election. They throw supporters and constituencies under the bus with ease.

    Suggest people considering General Krugman's views see his blog post on this topic from last week:

    "The other type is more interesting: the professional centrist. These are people whose whole pose is one of standing between the extremes of both parties, and calling for a bipartisan solution. The problem they face is how to maintain this pose when the reality is that a quite moderate Democratic party — one that is content to leave tax rates on the rich far below those that prevailed for most of the past 70 years, that has embraced a Republican health care plan — faces a radical-reactionary GOP.

    What these people need is reasonable Republicans. And if such creatures don’t exist, they have to invent them. Hence the elevation of Ryan — who is, in fact, a garden-variety GOP extremist, but with a mild-mannered style — to icon of fiscal responsibility and honest argument, despite the reality that his proposals are both fiscally irresponsible and quite dishonest."

    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/07/on-ryan-apologists/

  • esaud on April 09, 2012 11:48 AM:

    I liked PK's column today, so I read it again to see if EK's criticism holds up.

    To me it was crystal clear that PK was differentiating policy centrists (i.e. people who consider or accept actual policy positions from both Dem's and Rep's), and it is this definition he was using for Obama.

    He was castigating "centrists" (note the use of parentheses), and was very clearly talking about the "both sides are the same" school of punditry, what used to be called "high Broderism". These are the Olympia Snows of this world who take a position, not on its merits, but on some calculation of the political center.

    I thougt PK was very clear and definately was not talking about voters or the population in general, but specifically about the pundit class of opinion makers.

    And as far as turning voters off, what left wingers are actually saying is way under reported in the media (quick reality check: compare the media hits for Paul Ryan's budget to the crickets chirping for Raul Grijavla's proposal).

    I dare say that if voters actually heard more from members of the Progressive Caucus thay would find them to be smart, clear-thinking, honest individuals.

  • Daryl McCullough on April 09, 2012 11:50 AM:

    I don't want to run afoul of Godwin's Law by bringing up a certain 20th century German political party, but I believe that certain political groups are beyond any attempts at compromise. The modern Republican Party is an example. Any attempt to compromise with them will backfire.

    Given such a situation, moderation in the sense of bipartisanship is a losing proposition. Now, that doesn't mean that extremism is called for, but it means that for meaningful weighing of different interests and evaluating tradeoffs in public policy, the debate may as well be conducted completely within the Democratic Party, because there are no responsible adults on the other side to have a discussion with.

  • paul on April 09, 2012 11:51 AM:

    If you're going to police membership, go ahead. Tell us whom you would throw out of the "centrist" camp and put into the "middling rightwing" camp they actually belong to.

  • Daryl McCullough on April 09, 2012 11:51 AM:

    I am thinking that I must be a robot who my parents raised to think was human, because I'm always failing the "Captcha" tests to try to figure out if I'm a computer program.

  • Andy Olsen on April 09, 2012 11:52 AM:

    Another issue on professional "centrists" is that they are not at all centrists. They seek to dismantle the social safety net, they support torture, they support invasion of occupation of other countries, they don't want much done on racial injustice if it upsets the racists. And on and on and on....

    As my grandmother would say, "centrists, my royal Dutch ass."

    So, bury that brand. It's a deceit.

  • Anon on April 09, 2012 11:52 AM:

    Wow, man. You completely missed the point of Krugman's column. He's not arguing for maximum polarization as you falsely allege. Rather he's arguing that:

    A) Obama is governing as a centrist. Far from ceding the label to the right, as you accuse Krugman of doing, he is actually trying to claim it for Obama Obama is pursuing the policies that self-defined centrists used to claim they supported.

    B) Krugman is arguing that those for whom the "centrist" label is more important than any actual policy goal are actually providing cover for the right. In Krugman's view, Obama has pursued centrist policy aims, but because the self-titled Centrists can't accept yes for an answer -- they have to always see themselves as equally between the two parties no matter what either party proposes-- the public isn't learning the truth about the extremism of the modern Republican party, or about the centrism of Obama's proposals.

    That is, we finally have a Democratic President prioritizing deficit reduction above job creation, and pushing social security and medicare cuts (the holy grail of self-defined centrists) along with higher taxes for the wealthy. Obama's agenda would be Tom Friedman and David Broder's dream agenda if enacted by a No Labels or Unity or whatever new party President -- but when proposed by Obama, Friedman and Broder and co. consider the proposal as the partisan left position, so they simply move to a new, further right, unspecified policy position. At the same time, as the Republicans become more and more out of the mainstream (brazen in their efforts to roll us back to the pre-Industrial Revolution days), their centrism doesn't allow them to call it out for what it is, but rather to treat their position and Obama's as equally partisan, equally contemptible positions.

    In fact, what I think Krugman is getting at is that for self-titled centrists, policy doesn't matter at all. For them, it's the label and staying between the two parties that matters. And that because they have such a powerful brand, that is recipe for policy that tilts further and further right to dangerous ends.

    Honestly, Ed, your post today makes me miss Steve Benen. This has long been my single favorite spot on the internet, and I've been hopeful that you will be a worthy replacement. But given what appears to be your anachronistic view of politics, and knee jerk response to Krugman, I'm having my doubts.

  • JustMe on April 09, 2012 11:53 AM:

    insufficiently loud-and-proud progressive message has kept Democrats from energizing their party base or awakening a “hidden” populist majority

    There is not a hidden populist majority. Rather, "centrists" and "moderates" tend to "go along with the crowd" and don't think too hard, so they're willing to be lead by the loudest, most organized faction. For the past 30 years, that has been the Republicans. You want to get the "moderates" and the "centrists"-- give them someone to follow. By their nature, they're not leaders.

    The Democrats have made a mistake by thinking they can attract moderates by being as uncommitted as they themselves are. It doesn't work like that.

  • menthol on April 09, 2012 12:03 PM:

    Ed, like some others here, I too believe you've somewhat misread Krugman's column, but I think you've been doing a great job in general. I expected to follow Steve out the door when he left (and I do check out his posts on his new blog), but have stuck around because I've enjoyed your work.

  • SecularAnimist on April 09, 2012 12:04 PM:

    Obama works very hard to compromise with right-wing Republicans (after adopting their policies wholesale as an opening negotiating position, as with the individual mandate) -- and vilifies, denigrates and marginalizes progressive Democrats who criticize him from the left.

    So, yeah. That's pretty much the definition of a "centrist" these days.

  • gregor on April 09, 2012 12:05 PM:

    grassley of Iowa used to be characterized as centrist.

  • Steve on April 09, 2012 12:16 PM:

    I'm a centrist. The self-congratulatory tearing down of centrists, by partisans, is ignorant.

    To hear partisans tell it, you either have an extreme viewpoint on any given position, or you have no principles.

    That's like saying that the only "principled" response to murder is to either execute the perp or let him go.

    True centrists have principles, just like everybody else. It's just that their stance on any given issue isn't easily predictable. Sometimes they favor one or the other "extreme" positions; sometimes they favor a third way; sometimes it involve (gasp!) looking for something that combines the best features of the extremist positions.

    I'm center-left, as opposed to center-right. So I tend to sympathize more with Democrats than with Republicans. But I'm not doctrinaire about it.

    On civil liberties, I'm pretty hard-core. That stance crosses ideological lines in odd ways.

    On health-care, I think single-payer makes the most sense. But part of my reasoning is that by de-coupling health care from employment status, we not only make things fairer and more consistent for workers -- we also free employers from a big barrier to hiring *and* a large competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace.

    On the economy, I think a *reasonable* social safety net and *reasonable* regulations help keep the worst tendencies of capitalism under control, while exploiting its productivity benefits. I neither fetishize "job creators" nor think corporations are inherently evil. I think a mildly progressive tax system is fair and sensible. That said, there are enough compliance and favoritism problems with the income tax that I'm willing to consider something like the FAIR tax as long as steps are taken to ensure it doesn't merely shift tax burden from the rich to the middle class. The idea being to preserve the progressive nature of the tax system while removing most of the opportunities to game it.

    In terms of political division, I favor several "third-way" approaches: instant-runoff voting, for instance, and redistricting processes that minimize the opportunities for gerrymandering. While I usually vote for Democrats, I occasionally vote for Republicans and (more frequently) independents that match my views.

    Disagree with my views if you wish. But I dare you to say those views aren't based on principle.

  • Ron Byers on April 09, 2012 12:29 PM:

    Most of my life I viewed myself as a left moderate willing to look at any problem and at any proposed solution from all sides. I have been willing to consider right wing proposals on their merits.

    Lately, like the President, I have been accused of being a hard left socialist. I haven't moved, and more importantly the left hasn't moved left. The right has moved far, far right. Everybody, including those on the left have been drifting right in pursuit. Bad framing by the self-described "centrists" chasing the right has led us down the wrong path. It is time for everybody to stop drifing, take a principled stand and let the right drift off the far edge of the table.

    By the way, I don't think my policy views are much different than Obama's, and he is called a flaming European style socialist.

  • TCinLA on April 09, 2012 12:35 PM:

    Go read the history of politics in the German Reichstag 1929-32, as the Nazis gained ascendance and worked every day to make certain things didn't work legislatively, so they could run against "politics as they are" with their "honest conservative" proposals. A "centrist" to me is the kind of guy a German friend who lived through that time described: "Hitler wasn't voted into office by the Nazis, he was voted into office by people who believed him when he said he was a 'conservative.' Of course, they all discovered differently pretty quickly, when it was too late."

    The Republicans have defined what is "left" for the past 40 years, to the point where the "left" proposals of a guy like Bernie Sanders are today to the right of what was the "center" back during the Nixon administration. At the same time, they have been given a pass by the reporters and pundits who continue to call their radical, revolutionary corporate authoritarianism "conservative".

    Since our side is the majority of the country, it's time for us to start defining what term to use for radical, revolutionary, corporate, theocratic authoritarians, and start comparing them with their political bedmates like the late Osama Bin Laden and the current leadership of Iran.

    And morons like Emanuel stole-my-last-name Cleaver need to be given an education in "message discipline" or be sent back to stealing money from their congregations, a job he's got a lot of experience at.

    We are faced with a disciplined, revolutionary far right movement that wants to overthrow the government. The time for being nice and polite to them, and to the "useful idiots" like Cleaver who haven't got the sense to see the enemy when they're sitting next to some slime like Ralph Reed, is long since past. That is, if we have any desire to keep the country we all like to think we grew up in.

    Krugman didn't go far enough with that fuckwitted David Brooks, who is no "centrist" but rather a dedicated member of the "far right movement." It's what he grew up in, it's why the Literbox-Liner-of-Record hired him, and it's what he does every time he sits down at the keyboard.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on April 09, 2012 12:35 PM:

    Wow, Steve pretty much summed up my views on a variety of issues (even IRV!).

    Scanning the comments, i think people are making a fundamental error in conflating centrism with "useless attempts to pander to the crazy Republicans". I can see how those two concepts get confused if you think centrism is whatever makes Broder or Brooks happy.

    But Ed Kilgore is right -- what needs to happen is centrist Dems need to RECLAIM the centrist mantle to match, not whittle away the substance and move farther to the right to appease those who've stolen the mantle. Pity so few commenters see that.

    And make no mistake, any thinking centrists are now squarely aligned against the Republicans, whether we call ourselves Dems or not.

  • JustMe on April 09, 2012 12:36 PM:

    True centrists have principles, just like everybody else. It's just that their stance on any given issue isn't easily predictable.

    Most of the time, it is easily predictable-- a "centrist" will generally split the difference between a far-right policy view and a moderate, mainstream view within the Democratic party.

    Claiming to be a "centrist" is nothing but an act of cultural/social positioning.

  • dontcallmefrancis on April 09, 2012 12:36 PM:

    BURN IT FUCKING DOWN

  • TCinLA on April 09, 2012 12:39 PM:

    And furthermore, my fellow sad old vet is right when he says anyone who was idiot enough to work for that worthless piece of crap Harold Ford is hardly in a position to lecture anyone about what to do politically.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on April 09, 2012 12:41 PM:

    Apparently JustMe read one sentence and replied to it, not to Steve's entire post.

    A big part of the problem is that we have to generalize across a class of "centrists". Those who want to see us as unprincipled panderers hold a view that backs that up, evidence be damned.

    It would be nice to know if people like Steve and me are clearly in the minority among centrists (e.g., on single payer) or not. I'll bet that if the issues were explained clearly to the public, there'd be a lot more of us "unpredictable" centrists than the audience of Political Animal are willing to fathom.

  • chi res on April 09, 2012 12:44 PM:

    RegisteredGuest: There is no far left in the U.S. to speak of. The closest might be socialist Bernie Sanders.

    I think you meant to say, "There is no elected far left in the U.S. to speak of."

    That would be correct. There are, however, tons of far left soapboxers. The obvious follow-up is "Why?"

  • Shane Taylor on April 09, 2012 12:52 PM:

    When it comes to making sense of "centrists," I think Michael Lind is a better guide than Paul Krugman:

    "America's loose but real class system produces not one but two centers: the radical center, which is based in the white working class and lower middle class; and the 'mushy middle' (or the 'sensible center' or 'moderate middle'), which is based in the corporate world, the corporate media and in many think tanks in Washington. While the socially downscale radical center is center-left in economics and center-right in cultural matters (in favor of lowering the Medicare retirement age, against race-based affirmative action), the socially upscale mushy middle is center-right in economics and center-left in culture (in favor of cutting Social Security and Medicare and also for promoting ethnic diversity in an elite that is homogeneous in class and worldview)."

    http://www.salon.com/2010/04/20/radical_center_revisited/singleton/

  • Tyro on April 09, 2012 12:52 PM:

    In this day and age, anyone who claims to be a "centrist" without immediately qualifying the statement with, "but the republican party is a fringe, dangerous ideology that needs to be destroyed" is just an apologist for the right wing. Any centrist who is anything other than a partisan democrat can take a walk off a pier as far as I'm concerned, because that's the only honest centrist there is. Anything else is just closet conservatism or social cowardice.

  • square1 on April 09, 2012 1:00 PM:

    @Steve: You have been conned. The beliefs of D.C. "Centrists" -- who are primarily corporatist-whore Democrats at this point -- bear little resemblance to what average Americans believe.

    "Centrists" want people to believe that they are moderate and rational, intelligently weighing the pros and cons of various policies before choosing the best aspects of each. If only.

    In reality, Centrists are hard-core ideologues who will never let economic reality interfere with their Randian fantasies that the private sector cures all ills.

    Democratic Centrists are basically Republicans minus the culture war. But on economic issues, there is barely daylight between the two.

    Steve, you call yourself a Centrist but you go on to say that you think single-payer could be the best solution. Wonderful. Except how many D.C. Democrats agree with you? Zero.

    D.C. Centrists did not want to weigh the merits of various health care systems and compromise on a system that included maximum benefits. They wanted to whore for their corporate masters and kill single-payer before it could get off the ground. Democratic Centrists literally had single-payer advocates arrested when they appeared on Capital Hill.

    So what is the purpose of self-identifying with a label that is generally attached to people who do not share your beliefs. Sorry, but it isn't the literal critics of "Centrists" who are ignorant.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on April 09, 2012 1:01 PM:

    Tyro: You're on the right track, but i think you wrongly presuppose that the entire population shares your level of political engagement. Lots of people just haven't spent time thinking about it. (Frankly, they get a better return on their time investment in other fields than i do thinking about politics.)

  • Daryl McCullough on April 09, 2012 1:03 PM:

    I think it's worth distinguishing between two different kinds of "centrist". The silly kind, which I think anyone would realize is silly if he or she thought about it, is a "split the difference" centrist. There is one policy that is advocated by those on the "left", and a different policy that is advocated by those on the "right", and a split-the-difference centrist assumes that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

    If it's not obvious, the problem with split-the-difference centrism is that it rewards mindless extremism and punishes an honest, conscientious effort to address our problems. Suppose the liberals work really hard at coming up with a plan for, say, health care, or tax policy, or environmental protection, or whatever, that addresses all the concerns of workers, the poor, small business, the elderly, the military, etc. Suppose it's a pretty damn good plan. Then the conservatives come up with a ridiculous far-right counterplan. Then the split-the-difference centrist will reject the sensible plan, and go half-way to the ridiculous plan. We could consider the possibility with the positions reversed, as well--the left comes up with a ridiculous plan, and the conservatives have a thoughtful plan, and the centrists split the difference and move toward the leftist plan. But for some reason, that never happens.

    The other thing that is nonsensical about policy preferences of silly centrists is that "splitting the difference" often results in a half-hearted or even incoherent policy that accomplishes nothing that either side is concerned about.

    What's the nonsilly type of centrist? It's one who believes that there can be several competing, legitimate concerns, and that it's important to take them all into account when creating policy. This doesn't mean moderating between two different *proposals*, because one proposal may *already* take into account competing concerns better than another.

  • Steve on April 09, 2012 1:10 PM:

    A big part of the problem is that we have to generalize across a class of "centrists". Those who want to see us as unprincipled panderers hold a view that backs that up, evidence be damned.

    Another, related issue is that there are people who call themselves "centrists" who flatly are not. Some of it is simply self-delusion -- like people who think of themselves as "middle class" while pulling down $300,000 a year. But some of it is pure positioning. Nobody wants to be characterized as "extreme", so they simply label themselves 'centrist'.

    It would be nice to know if people like Steve and me are clearly in the minority among centrists (e.g., on single payer) or not. I'll bet that if the issues were explained clearly to the public, there'd be a lot more of us "unpredictable" centrists than the audience of Political Animal are willing to fathom.

    It would be even nicer if people stopped worrying about how best to label large groups of people, and instead focused on specific policies. If the case can be made that single-payer makes the most sense (as I think it can), then make that case with logic and math. Who cares what you call the supporters?

    This is undoubtedly an Analogy Too Far, but for those of you familiar with web development, it's akin to the difference between "browser detection" and "feature detection." As long as you can detect whether a browser(voter) supports a given feature(policy), who cares what the browser brand (voter's overall ideology) actually is?

  • Anonymous on April 09, 2012 1:12 PM:

    I think it's worth distinguishing between two different kinds of "centrist". The silly kind, which I think anyone would realize is silly if he or she thought about it, is a "split the difference" centrist. There is one policy that is advocated by those on the "left", and a different policy that is advocated by those on the "right", and a split-the-difference centrist assumes that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

    What's the nonsilly type of centrist? It's one who believes that there can be several competing, legitimate concerns, and that it's important to take them all into account when creating policy. This doesn't mean moderating between two different *proposals*, because one proposal may *already* take into account competing concerns better than another.

    Yes!

  • Steve on April 09, 2012 1:18 PM:

    That Anonymous comment above is from me, too. Silly comment system.

    You have been conned. The beliefs of D.C. "Centrists" -- who are primarily corporatist-whore Democrats at this point -- bear little resemblance to what average Americans believe.

    Why do I care what "DC centrists" think? I make up my own mind. I'm not simply letting a different team make up my mind for me.

    To be clear, I think the GOP has taken a hard right turn and is in the process of purifying itself into irrelevance. I think they are becoming almost nihilistic in terms of government philosophy. I think they are growing increasingly anti-intellectual and anti-science, and I think Reagan, were he alive today, would be called a RINO or worse.

    I think the Democrats have drifted rightward almost by default, as they take in the centrists that are no longer welcome in the GOP.

    But unlike partisans, that does not make me happy. While I have many issues with our two-party system, I much prefer it to a one-party system. We need a system that lets many voices be heard, but encourages cooperation to solve problems. That simply isn't the case now.

    My hope is that the GOP will get their clocks cleaned in November, prompting them to rediscover sanity.

    But I want them to recover.

  • Steve on April 09, 2012 1:22 PM:

    Oh, one last thing. I voted for Obama in 2008 precisely because, having actually examined his policy positions, I felt he was a centrist at heart.

    He has not disappointed me in that regard. He is clearly a center-left politician.

    I think he underestimated just how unopen to cooperation the GOP was, and that resulted in a lot of wasted time and squandered opportunities, particularly around the health-care bill.

    But as far as his approach to policy, I've gotten more-or-less exactly what I voted for.

  • Tyro on April 09, 2012 1:54 PM:

    What's the nonsilly type of centrist? It's one who believes that there can be several competing, legitimate concerns, and that it's important to take them all into account when creating policy

    This is called being a Democrat with a functional brain stem.

    The question is whether you place a greater priority on a preening centrism or whether you actually want forward progress on policy goals, which might require you to actually beat republicans every now and then rather than fawning over yourself for being so centrist.

  • Robert Waldmann on April 09, 2012 2:03 PM:

    We don't think centrism is the yellow line in the middle of the road, we think it is the dead armadillo. SadOldVet is rude and the past is past, but "maximum" and "unambiguously" are cheap rhetorical tricks which don't work here. Don't stab a straw man in the back.

    Note that the word "gullible" was used as a necessary qualifier. The implication is that not all centrists ae gullible. Krugman clearly thinks Obama has learned his lesson ( and what could ever be more useful to Obama than Krugman denouncing his alleged centrism?).

    I think the 1 dimensional representation of ideology is astonishgly useful, but can be overdone. In particular, the mederate center of US public opinion does not have a view on taxes on the rich between Obama and Romney but much closer to Obama. They clearly are more enthusiastic about class warfare than Obama admits in public to being. This is demonstrated by dozens of polls going back decades.

    The winning strategy is based on defining centrism as standing up for the interests of the US middle class (I sincerely am more concerned about the problems of the third world poor so I should be shunned).

    The odd thing about your debatewith Krugman is that you both agree with Obama's current rhetorical strategy. I shudder to imagine what you would write about each other if you actually disagreed about anything.

    I hate the captcha, but this one is perfect. It is "ISAbout popolo" . Exactly, it is about the people and populism.

  • Sisyphus on April 09, 2012 2:28 PM:

    The trouble with many self-professed centrists is that they take the view that they are meant to be the peacemakers between to extremists sides, and that, as a result, they venerate the fallacy of the middle to the point of a cult. If both hands of a clock point to 12, and one side says it's the middle of the day and the other says midnight, the reality is not that it's 6:00 p.m. (or a.m.). It means that one side is wrong, and trying to find the truth in between the two is just stupid.

    That's not to say that polarization is necessarily a good thing, but it is to say that being a centrist is only of worth when you are correct (or at least working from a factual place). When the very facts themselves are in dispute, if you want to take on a mantle of centrism, fine. But do it by starting with providing an objective set of facts that everyone can work with, and from there trying to establish a compromise. Otherwise, you're just looking for a sunset at noon (to extend the metaphor from above).

  • Col Bat Guano on April 09, 2012 2:54 PM:

    The problem Ed is missing is that "polariztion" implies that both parties are responsible for the gap. The Republicans have figured out if you just keep moving your goal posts, making it harder to come to an agreement, DC pundits will sigh and blame both parties for the "poisonous atmosphere" and demand that they try and work together. Thus, Democrats are required to move their policy positions to the right and allowing the Republicans to shift again. The ACA was the "centrist" (if not center-right) position on healthcare, but has now suddenly become a socialist takeover of the healthcare market. Should the Democrats now move further to the right to satisfy the centrist?

  • peasporridgecold on April 09, 2012 3:29 PM:

    Krugman isn't disdaining the "centrists" of the electorate. He's disdaining the "centrists" of the pundocracy- people like Brooks, Friedman and the late David Broder (god rest) who loved the center not from policy beliefs, but for its centerness.

    This is explicit in K's column- a "centrist" wishes for policy X, Obama proposes policy X, the GOP threatens to blow up a puppy if we don't have policy X+100. And the centrists chastises Obama for being inflexible.

  • Texas Aggie on April 09, 2012 4:09 PM:

    The only thing you find in the center of the road are dead armadillos. - Jim Hightower

    Lots of the posts have made the point that being "centrist" is not particularly admirable because taking that position means, as Sisyphus points out, that you value a particular political category over whether or not the position is correct and defensible. To reiterate, you have to evaluate the particular policy as to what it actually will accomplish, not necessarily what its backers claim.

    People used to dump on Kissinger for his "realpolitik", but his problem was that he went too far with it and didn't allow human values to enter his calculations. When human rights, i.e., the Geneva Convention, is factored in, then realpolitik has its points. Everyone who had thought about the situation was well aware that Obamacare was flawed and that single payer of some sort was vastly superior. But given the political situation with the far right radicals wedded to their dogma instead of results, there was little chance to get single payer (although if "the centrists" hadn't given away the store at the very beginning, what we got could have been a lot better) so we had to settle for the porcaria that is Obamacare.

    The same pattern fits most of the debates on whatever subject you want to mention. We have to realize that what is obviously the best solution isn't going to happen given the power of the reactionaries and their ability to get their base to line up and salute their flag. What we need to do is be a bit more perspicacious about how we go about getting as much as possible. Being a "centrist" is not part of the calculation.

  • Square1 on April 09, 2012 4:31 PM:

    @steve:

    You are completely missing the point. The term "Centrist" has been widely adopted by a certain, pro-corporation, anti-New Deal faction of the party for roughly 25 years now. Their views (a) bear no resemblance to what you are describing your views to be and (b) deserve criticism because the resulting policies are invariably bad.

    Liberal critics should and do take shots at Democratic Centrists. If you choose to adopt a loaded political term like "Centrist" despite the fact that your views differ from what "Centrists" have been advocating for over 2 decades.... then stop bitching when you get caught in the rhetorical crossfire.

  • Chris on April 09, 2012 7:16 PM:

    I think you are proceeding from a false premise. If you look at Krugman's blog from April 7th, he breaks Ryan apologists into two camps: (a) the "pseudo-reasonable apparatchik"; and (b) the "professional centrist." Based on his description of the "pseudo-reasonable apparatchik," I'd guess that's the category in which he'd place Brooks. He describes it as a person who makes a big show of seeming reasonable and seriously debating the issues, but someone who always comes out on the side of the Republicans anyway.

    The "professional centrist" as described by Krugman does not really apply to Brooks. That description, along with his op-ed, seemed more likely to be targeted toward the article written by James B Stewart and published by the NYT on April 6th entitled "For All the Furor Over Ryan’s Plan, It’s a Place to Start." Stewart starts from the premise that since the Ryan plan is being criticized both by President Obama and by the Club for Growth, that Ryan "must be doing something right."

  • jrh on April 09, 2012 10:32 PM:

    Centrist: Person who holds moderate views.
    According to most polls, Centrists range around 55% of the voting public. Centrists are also expected to be one of the largest voting blocks in 2012. Because of the far right fanaticism of the republican party, a higher than normal % of these Centrist voters will stay a moderate course and vote Democratic. I understand, during the general election, the republicans will re-re-re-re-reinvente themselves and try to capture some of this group, but the lies and fanaticism will still be there.

  • Marie Burns on April 09, 2012 11:25 PM:

    No, Ed, Krugman is not talking about Brooks. He's talking about -- and this is why he doesn't name him -- James Stewart, who wrote an incredibly deceptive column in the weekend business section -- full of factual errors -- on why Ryan's budget was a good start.

    BTW, Jared Bernstein agrees with me here.

  • Registeredguest on April 10, 2012 10:27 AM:

    Brooks Stewart, Stewart Brooks.

    Krugman's brush captures both and throw in Friedman in the bargain.

  • HMDK on April 10, 2012 11:59 AM:

    Your two consecutive posts don't scan with each other.
    Because I to a great extent agree with the "Silence is golden" one...
    And I believe that the things discussed therein are much to blame for the idiocy of this, the second article.
    What moderates? And moderate as to what?
    The U.S. has moved rightward for decades. (Who'd have guessed Agnew would be right about the pendullum?). So you now have an ultra-right, ultra-nationalist, ultra-rich party. And that other rightwing party, which now occupies a space the first one used to hold. Basically, someone asked me once what became of moderate republicans? The answer is simple and not that interesting: They became the Democratic Party.
    The question that IS important:
    What became of the democrats?

  • JeffK on April 11, 2012 3:16 AM:

    I'm a centrist, and unlike the shrill label that some commenters here have used, I do not support:
    -Lower taxes for the wealthy, at the expense of our infrastructure and safety net
    -Torture in ANY countries
    -Occupation of foreign soil
    -Erosion of civil liberties
    Have I left any out?

    But, to claim that I am a sheep who cannot think for himself and responds to the loudest voice with the brightest colors is nothing more than ignorant, partisan groupthink.
    However, I don't support every pillar of what the Left supports, abortion being first and foremost, followed by advancing "social issues" above getting our economy fixed.
    If anything, I've thought for myself, researched before voting, followed issues I'm passionate about, and voted with a clear conscience since the day I turned 18.
    So, if I cannot call myself a Republican, cannot call myself a Democrat, what's left?
    Centrist.

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