Why the Elusive Political “Center” is So Elusive

“Now he [Obama] needs to talk to us. And that’s good, because when the American people elect divided government they’re not saying they don’t want anything done,” the new U.S. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (a Republican) said. “What they are saying is they want things done in the political center, things that both sides can agree on.”

What does it mean to be in the “center” of an issue of principle? Everyone seems to take it for granted that the “center” is always correct and reasonable, while everything else is “off center” and therefore questionable, bad or wrong.

We would never approach real life this way. Or if we did, we’d certainly pay the price.

Consider examples from daily life. “Should I buy this house, or should I buy a different one? Or should I wait and not buy a house at all?” There are many different factors involved in making this decision. However, the end game of weighing those factors would be to determine — to the best of your ability and knowledge — the right decision to make.

You wouldn’t seek out the “center” between the right and wrong decision, would you? You would not say: “Let’s find a middle-of-the-road position. Clearly, there are advantages to buying the house, as well as waiting. Let’s not do either of those. Let’s do something else.”

It’s the same with less tangible issues. “Should I make up a lie and tell my friend that I don’t want to do this activity with him? Or should I just tell him thanks, but I’m not interested in doing that?” There is no “center” here. Either you lie to your friend, or you don’t.

Compromises are possible, but not on matters of principle. The Republicans in Congress have to make up their minds. What are their principles? Are they committed to a limited government which only provides for the defense of the country and gets the hell out of education, health care, subsidizing business, redistributing wealth and providing almost unlimited social welfare/charity? Or does it favor more or less the same thing that their opponents favor, only with differences around the margins? And expenditures in the billions of dollars rather than the trillions of dollars?

If Republicans really disagree with their opponents in principle, then they will propose cuts in anything the federal government currently does, other than defense, since that’s provided by the Constitution (not that defense cuts would always be wrong.)

But that’s not what Republicans ever do. Instead, they propose slightly smaller increases in spending for all the non-defense items, the vast majority of what the federal government currently does. (And they don’t even always do this.) This does not make them an opposition party. An opposition party would differ in principle and direction, on each and every issue. They would not quit until the budget was balanced, the national debt eliminated and the federal government was only protecting citizens from violent force. Even if this takes decades, with losing and winning some battles, this would be the focus and purpose of each and every battle. There’s nothing centrist about this.

Democrats have never been centrist; that’s why they succeeded politically, even with bad ideas and polices. Going back at least to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration in the 1930s: Higher taxes, more non-military government spending, exponential expansion of social welfare and entitlement programs, subsidizing agriculture and business (so as to better control them) — never, ever reductions or limitations. Privatization? Even the word is unthinkable heresy. They have succeeded in transforming America’s once private economy into a largely quasi-socialist one. And they didn’t do it by being centrist. There’s nothing remotely centrist about Democrats. So why should their opponents be this way?

Granted, Republicans could compromise (based on the reality of votes) on how much they would accept in cuts for programs not provided for in the Constitution. But they would never compromise on the basic direction. They would essentially say (and mean), “Unless we get a budget that goes in the right direction, we won’t accept it.”

Of course, Republicans will not do this. This is because many of them actually agree with the Democrats in principle, and only differ in the price tag. Others probably do disagree with their opponents in principle, but are simply afraid to take a stand, because they worry they will be voted out of office, lose their Washington DC celebrity status, or that the media will portray them as mean. The implication of such attacks is that if you don’t favor government support of charity, you don’t favor charity at all. You’re either a Democrat, and supporter of expansive government, or you’re mean. Republicans never challenge this, perhaps because deep down a lot of them believe it. As if only government is capable of providing charity, and as if our callous and inept welfare-entitlement state, riddled with red tape, confusion and massive contradictions, remotely resembled anything you might describe as charity and compassion. As if charity at gunpoint were truly charitable. As if most of what the government subsidizes and spends trillions of future generations’ dollars on really has anything to do with charity, even nominally.

There is no “center” here. Most Americans think there is, and that probably explains why we keep getting divided government. Most Americans possibly agree with Republicans that government spends way too much and has gone way outside the bounds of its proper Constitutional limits. But most of those same Americans agree with Democrats that the government must provide for those “in need,” with “need” being whatever the wise souls we elect to Congress determine it to be. (It’s insane even on its own terms, given that most of us don’t see these souls in Congress as even close to wise.) That has resulted in a national debt and federal deficit that could never, in a trillion years, keep up with robust economic growth which America has yet to restore, and will never match the economic growth an unfettered free market could bring.

Finding the “center” on issues of principle is like trying to make a circle a square, or vice-versa. You cannot alter the nature of a free market economy by trying to turn it into a socialist one — and then claiming you don’t want it to be either.

The Democrats, while wrong, are at least firm, clear and unyielding in their positions. Either you favor ever-more increases in all manner of government spending not specified by the Constitution, and in no way morally justified because it imposes force on the givers; or you’re a cold-blooded racist (or sexist, I suppose, once Hillary Clinton becomes the next redistributor-in-chief.)

America is still in need of a second party, one of principled opposition. Republicans as we know them are worse than no opposition, because they create the illusion of opposition when they offer no such thing. On top of it, they have all the baggage associated with anti-liberty views on sex between consenting adults and contraception.

What about winning? Granted, a genuine and principled opposition party might not win the crucial battles and might remain in the minority status until a majority of Americans decide they can’t take our bankrupt status quo any longer. But so what? How is it better to have an opposition party who only differs in verbal claims from its opponents, but almost never varies in practice? I’d much rather have a principled opposition party waiting in the wings to reverse course when all the socialism goes bad, rather than looking to the mealy-mouthed and thoroughly unprincipled John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to come to the rescue when everything falls apart for the socialists, as it inevitably does.

Republicans try to have it both ways. They claim to be in favor of limited government, in principle, while in practice they almost always go in the opposite direction. That’s why they’re losers, even when they win. The Democrats continue to control the fiscal agenda, even when they don’t control any of the government. Democrats win even when they lose, and losing is actually good for them because it gives them someone else to blame — for the bad consequences of their own policies, no less.

There is no reasonable “center” between right and wrong, not on matters of principle. At a certain point, you have to decide which is the right direction, or the wrong direction, and why.

Republicans, as we know them, will not change our direction. Until or unless we do, the bankruptcy and dysfunction imposed by our coercive government state — including the perpetual drag it places on our strangled economy — will just grow worse. We’re still awaiting real change, and that can only come from a change in principle and direction.

In short, we need a total U-turn.


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