« The Gay Front | Main | We Stand As One »

April 09, 2005

Hence the "Imaginary Center"

Matt misinterprets my post from this morning (although I do like the constant blog wars we're having). Terming it "fuck the center" isn't quite correct, it was much more "fuck the imaginary center" (hence the title: "The Imaginary Center"), the point being that this magical land of moderation exists only in the mental landscape of the pundit class. That, of course, accounted for my foray into what Matt calls "polling literalism". Policies supported by the American people lay far outside what one would assume centrist politics allows -- they profess to want government-run health care, a hyper-progressive tax system, etc., which proves, I think, that achieving "centrism" isn't as binary and simplistic as some assume.

Of course, we do have a representative democracy, so if Americans really wanted these things, they wouldn't keep voting in the schmucks who demagogue the bills aimed at achieving them. That's why I didn't recommend that Hillary fight for single-payer health care or a whopping increase in top-bracket taxes, I don't think the American people would end up springing for it. That's also why I've been arguing for the regressive VAT (rather than holding out for more progressive solutions) and against single-payer (rather than middle-way universal options). There may be no all-powerful center, but there's sure as hell no omnipotent left and you go after what you're likely to sell. All that said, Hillary won't find much salvation in the glorious kingdom of centrism. Because that really is where the polling literalism that Matt deplores springs from -- uncertain politicians thinking that if they eavesdrop on enough voters they'll find this magic package of middle-way proposals that no one will ever disagree with. As Bush pere would say, "Not gonna happen".

And that, finally, brings us to my argument about the American people dragging the "center" to wherever they are. Reasonable proposals are anything they like, even if they're flat out contradictory. Flat tax and progressive tax? Bring it on! Deficit reduction and tax cuts? Yes please! Respected in the world and belligerent abroad? Why not? So syncing electoral whims with good policy-making requires a host of leadership and communicative abilities, not least the impression of strength and certitude in your decisions. Hillary would be best served focusing on cultivating that image rather than some Bayh/Breaux/Kerrey/Lieberman-like centrism that's only recognized when she screws over a loyal constituency. That doesn't end up getting you very far because Americans don't have some Platonic form of centrism they're just waiting to see achieved. That idea is a misread of Clinton, who tapped into some nice anti-party, anti-interest group sentiment and won an election. But rejecting institutions Americans don't like is different than this mindless search for moderation to many politicians go through. Finger-in-the-wind leaders who lack convictions, or at least look like they do, get rejected no matter how well their positions hew to the imagined middle. John Kerry with all the same proposals but the ability to speak in declarative sentences would've won the election. Real life John Kerry loses -- simple as that.

Matt's comments about polling literalism, by the way, are good and you should read them. The point is that they don't quite apply to my post. If the center is where the majority resides then, according to the American people, no such place exists. Or, more to the point, many such places exist, which is precisely the problem. So Matt's right to condemn polling literalism, but his post is actually complimentary, not opposed, to mine. If polls were returned with rational results that translated into predictable legislative and electoral outcomes, then there would be a center and I'd be the first to suggest politicians quickly figure out how to appeal to it. But they don't, and so I stick by my original point -- fuck the imaginary center.

April 9, 2005 | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c572d53ef00d834719c8f69e2

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Hence the "Imaginary Center":

Comments

I'm 90% pursuaded you are right that the center is imaginary, and also right that the electorate can hold contradictory beliefs equally to their bossoms.

Revealing datum from yesterday: only 40% can name which party controls Congress's two houses. The public is so uninformed that only the barest twig of the policy branch is visible to them. When they public "knows" they make good calls, but they aren't for most issues.

Without a leader and a party they have learned to trust, they bend with the winds of advertising, media news focus, the loudest foghorn. The Dems don't have that trust, very much, and they don't control the noise machine.

You are certainly right that on many of the major topics of the day domestically, the Dems poll in the lead. The reverse (Repubs lead) on national security issues.

Where is the center? Nowhere and Everwhere, as you have pointed out.

If you are calling for leadership with conviction and a clear message and forgetting about where the center is, then I think you are right in principle.

In practice, politicians triangulate on an issue by issue basis, with a finger to the wind quite often. That won't stop when the party is leaderless and their is no 'party philosophy' or something to set their tiller toward.

This truly is a dilemma of principal and practice.

An interesting question: Should the Dems craft a set of cleverly constructed positions on issues that will win with both the left and 'center', or should the party decide what it believes in as a party general approach to goverment and then adopt issue positions consistent with that approach?

We will always have some of both of the above, but if you are arguing for 'believing' in some approach to government rather than doing the best damn polling around to decide positions, then I'm with you.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 9, 2005 2:25:40 AM

After reading you, then Matt, then Matt again, then you, I think your conclusion is basically right, that is, I was having a hard time identifying the underlying "fundamental" dispute, and I don't think it really exists. I do, like you, enjoy the back and forth, although again, what the real problem between you and Matt is remains a mystery. (Not that there IS a problem, but this alleged disagreement seems a bit forced, but I know you guys respect each other and use terms such as "wrong" with no offense given or taken...or so I assume).

One thing I did take away from your post is the convictions thing, and that is seems to be the most important point. People like bright shiny things in politics, and given a bright shiny thing they will compare it to the bright shiny thing trotted out by the other side. The main thing is that if you tell me my Ferrari is free and that appeals to me more than the idea that my healthcare is reasonable and inexpensive, well, I'm a Republican. If you tell me I can have both a Ferrari AND healthcare that is reasonable and inexpensive, and I believe you, well, I'm a Republican. If you tell me that I can't have a Ferrari, and my healthcare will get incrementally better and cheaper, well, I'm a Democrat. A sexless wonder of reason who might as well exit the world of political strategy according to New Democrat political theology.

That's the reality-based community for you, always the wet blanket and buzzkill. All of us have all kinds of attractions to bright shiny things (I have an iPod, do you?), but after our initial lust is over, our (Dems, libs, whatever) next question is "How do we do it and who does it screw?" On the other hand, in the world where the self is the center of this and every universe, that is, the mind of many GOPers (certainly the policy-making ones), the next question is "How do I maximize my personal return?" Problem is, most folks want shit for free, and are willing to suspend intelligence (if they have it) and rationalize outcomes based on drivel they have been slurping up from various sources for many years. People actually do think that tax cuts for the wealthy stimulate the economy, and people actually do think that U.S. security interests are best-served by engaging in stupid and costly wars of choice. And Democrats are afraid of offending these sensibilities. However, I think that until Democrats stop the stealth "we need to pretend we think these DUMBASS ideas are reasonable in order not to offend the dumbasses" approach, we shall see redux after redux of 2004. No sense electing a Democra dumbass when you can have the real dumbass.

Folks aren't inherenly dumbasses, although if you encourage them to act like it, they will vote for the GOP. Give them a solid and consistent reason to vote for responsibility and good ideas, and they will...at least the ones whose votes can be considered in play. Liberals have the right message and the right ideas. We just need to start acting like we know that is objectively true from our point of view, and force those who disagree with us need to argue the points, not use polls or "man on the street" anectdotes to oppose our ideas. And we need to stop with the "I see your point" and "It's a complicated issue" intro to everything we say. We need to start with "You are wrong for many reasons. I will explain why." At the end, if you actually like you ideological opponent, you can use the normal "respect your opinion" thing, which is true. But don't start with that nice-guy stuff, end with it.

I think that the American people respect sound policy, fiscal responsibility, and careful planning. I'm not offering a free lunch, I'm offering a sustainable policy. If you (GOP hack) think the American people are too dumb to understand that you don't get something for nothing, all I can say is that I disagree, and once the American public learns what we are trying to accomplish, they will be on board.

More responses like that, regardless of the issue or any idea of the "center" are in order.

I've really enjoyed your recent posts, by the way. Even more than usual.

Posted by: abjectfunk | Apr 9, 2005 3:35:52 AM

Wish I could spell and delete extra words a bit better.

I'll do that next year. Maybe.

Posted by: abjectfunk | Apr 9, 2005 3:47:21 AM

The center isn't where the majority resides at all. A vast majority of Americans are not "centrists". The center is "the center", because the center gets to decide the outcome of the election by picking either the left or the right. In any democratic system a center MUST exist somewhere, because on most issue people have concave single-peaked preferences. I want the tax structure to look like X and pushing it in either direction off my X is less desirable to me. If two options are to the right of my X, I will always prefer the left-most of the two. Right? If everyone has preferences that look like this, the middle group of people will always get to decide which choice wins. In Congress, when Republicans are trying to get 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, the DLC schucksters are this all-powerful group. When it is a majority issue, like on a committee, center Republicans get to make the call, like Chaffee or McCain. They hold the power.

The electorate is like that too, except the electorate doesn't evaluate ONE issue at a time like Congress does. They evaluate ALL issues with one vote. The problem with your analysis is that you only consider economic policy. If the government didn't deal with social issues at all, the "centrists" in America would be much farther to the left. But the problem is that many on the left of the center on economics are right of the center on social issues. The democratic party is not ready to abandon the social issues stands we take. Issues like "family values"/"hating people different from you" hurt the democrats in many races. So much so that we can't win these people's votes by adjusting closer to their preferences on economics. Economics in today's political environment is a second-class issue.

Let's pretend we did move left on economics. We would lose the financial support of the party. The wealthy who support the Democratic party precisely because of our stands on many social issues would be scared off by the new "screw the rich" democratic party. Getting left without huge warchests would be fine, if our populist rheotoric won more votes than the money could win, but it will not. We will be left with little way to get our message out, and a message that the core intended audience thinks is less important than screwing gay people. (bad pun)

Someday I hope that people can chill out on the hate-mongering front and start voting their pocketbooks, but that day is not today.

Posted by: scott lewis | Apr 9, 2005 1:35:43 PM

...[I] didn't recommend that Hillary fight for single-payer health care or a whopping increase in top-bracket taxes, I don't think the American people would end up springing for it. That's also why I've been arguing for the regressive VAT (rather than holding out for more progressive solutions) and against single-payer

Oh, that's brilliant. Argue against good policy because it's too liberal whilst fighting the good fight against imaginary centrism!!

Goddam wonks.

Posted by: Alex | Apr 9, 2005 2:04:11 PM

"Of course, we do have a representative democracy, so if Americans really wanted these things, they wouldn't keep voting in the schmucks who demagogue the bills aimed at achieving them."


Wha--?

We most certainly do *not* have a representative democracy. Instead we have the electoral college, the Senate, the House. Call them what you want but please, please, please, let's not pretend they accurately represent the "will of the people" in any meaningful sense.

Other than that, though, good post.

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Apr 9, 2005 5:15:57 PM

Whenever some idiot suggests that the Democrats must seek the center, I'm reminded of this cartoon

Posted by: ItAintEazy | Apr 10, 2005 4:16:52 AM

Ahh yes, if Kerry talked like a fuckin dumb-awss, the Democrats wudda won. Three word sentences beeatch! Wait that means thez nobody listin to you

Posted by: it'sanonymous | Apr 11, 2005 1:43:29 AM

Centrism appeals mostly to the ill-informed. That is not to say, the dumb, but merely those who are simply too apathetic to pick a side.

That may sound rough, but there's evidence to back this up. Those who do not vote tend to be more "moderate" than the rest. The more education that people have, the less likely they are to identify as "moderate" and more likely to identify as liberals or conservatives. For better or worse, ideologues tend, disproportionately, to be the "best and brightest."

And those who are moderate or non-ideological? They tend to vote mainly on other factors, like party id, race consciousness, or "likeability."

That is not to say that they are completely unconscious of policy. Most of these folks do not consciously pick an "in-between" option because they think it is superior policy, but rather because they are suspicious about the motives of the ideological "extremists." Moreover, compromise is seen as good, even if there is no rational reason for it.

Considering these facts, then, centrism is not a panacea, but a rather ineffective means of pandering to a big block of marginally-attached voters, as well as a fairly effective method of pandering to a much smaller group of genuinely-centrist people who are in the know (Washington pundits, etc.)

Posted by: Jim D | Apr 11, 2005 3:22:17 PM

Without looking down or back, they were over the Holy City in minutes. They dropped another bomb. Then they flew to Amman in Jordan. They dropped a bomb there, and flew on to Damascus. Then to Baghdad, then to Riyadh.dad & daughter sexscat music anime personality soccer uniform footmother son taboobear dvd gay ebony fantasy latin twinks female domination story anime x fishnet adult erotica stories brutal sadismebony india

Posted by: ebony | Nov 11, 2005 5:50:57 PM

托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
木制托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
钢托盘
木托盘
钢制托盘
托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
南京托盘
南京钢托盘
上海托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
南京托盘
南京钢托盘
上海托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
纸托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘
杭州托盘
成都托盘
武汉托盘
长沙托盘
合肥托盘
苏州托盘
无锡托盘
昆山托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
纸托盘
南京托盘
南京钢制托盘
南京钢托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘

托盘
托盘
托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
塑料托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
塑料托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
托盘
托盘
托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
木制托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
木制托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹板托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
木制托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
木托盘
塑料托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹板托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
木制托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹板托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘


托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
托盘
塑料托盘

Posted by: peter.w | Sep 15, 2007 8:14:59 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.