The graphic above is from an article entitled “The Infuriating Paternalism of Centrists”
The media is ‘mad about centrism’. The New York Times sends a summary of what is in their opinion columns each day and without counting the number of times that the word centrism popped up, clearly, it would be the biggest word in one of those scaled word diagrams. The major article bemoaning the lack of centrism was authored by Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist dispossessed from the Republican Party by Trumpism, but still a Reagan-era Republican. A second article by Zachary Carter, also in The NYT, argues that Biden’s bill is the very essence of centrism.
The New York Times and The Washington Post are both mainstream media sources with millions of subscribers, newspapers that try to walk a fine line between Democrats and, if not Republicans, then old school Conservatives. Understandable, if you are bleeding money and need to keep all your subscribers happy. Not quite as tolerable if you believe that Republicans have designs on redesigning America to satisfy Christian Americans who are White. Not quite as tolerable if you believe we are headed towards a two-class society of monied aristocrats and poorer workers, workers who will toil until they die. Workers who will toil for the wealthy Americans whose intentions are to control both corporations and government along with schools, our thoughts, our housing, or public utilities, our energy sources, our national parks, our borders, and our relationships with our allies.
These overreaching aristocrats and wealthy politicians tell the people who rally around them that Democrats are using mandates to force Americans to comply with rules that violate their freedoms. But the things Democrats back are intended to improve public safety and set the economy back on track after a global pandemic. These ‘invasive’ policies are small potatoes compared to the authoritarian rule that Republicans have in mind.
Not all centrists are created equal. A centrist could be like a moderate Republican if such an animal still existed. A centrist could also be like a moderate Democrat, theoretically represented by Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. A centrist could be Joe Biden as Conservatives pictured him when they voted for him, or a centrist could be Joe Biden selling his last peaceful years for bipartisanship and compromising away the most ‘extreme’ asks of the progressives in his party.
The bargain seems to be about what to do about the American people. Are they better off if government offers no assistance because they then have to rely on their own resources, ‘pull themselves up by their own bootstraps’, a truly classic worker image as if all workers toil in the mud? Or if we put a safety net under American workers so they can’t fall too far or too hard, will they abuse that net by choosing not to work at all?
Is this, not actually about people, but instead about the American economy. If successful Americans can hoard money and become inordinately wealthy does that lead to a healthy economy? If workers feel that someone has their back, does that help the economy? So, Republicans say that any programs that make life easier for American workers are bad for the people and for the economy. And Democrats say that the American economy cannot prosper without workers and that workers needs have changed since the end of the Industrial Revolution, since families now require two workers to grow their wealth or even survive month-to-month. The pandemic showed us how important things like childcare and pre-K are for the health of the family and the economy.
The extremes of the Republican Party are far more reactionary than the extremes of the Democratic Party are progressive. And the Republicans are riddled with attitudes that still claim that white people are superior to black people, a pool of racial discrimination deep within them that has declared that everyone who is not from Europe is suspect and cannot be allowed to enter America. After current immigration trends across Europe, even European immigrants are suspect. This ‘America First’ belief is very extreme. Republicans contrast it with Democrats’ policy of open borders, which is not actually a Democratic policy. Racial animosity is the reason that Republicans don’t like public schools. If you have charter schools you can discriminate or not, as you please, all paid for with vouchers, except that, rich parents can add their private contributions to the federal vouchers making schooling unequal for many years to come.
Republicans distort the policies on the left for political reasons, which makes the left wing seem more extreme than it is. They turn a slogan from George Floyd rally posters into a battle cry against made-up Democratic extremism. ‘Defund the Police’ may have literally meant to disband our police forces to a few protestors, but to most it meant taking away war props from our police, props that turn citizens into the enemy and our cities into sites for urban warfare, it meant helping to root out racist police officers, giving the police fewer jobs by offering to add social workers to help with mentally ill Americans, and offering training on the safest and best ways to handle Americans on drugs.
The newest tool used by Republicans to rile up their base is the three-letter acronym, ‘CRT’. Americans understand that this has something to do with race and that it might be coming to a school near you. This just goes back to the old tired white supremacist drum beat. Tucker Carlsen gives people the words to express their outrage at what he says is an attempt to besmirch the proud history of America. Writing in today’s The Washington Post, opinion writer Jennifer Rubin, once a conservative, now a reliable supporter of Democrats, offered up the definitive answer to the right-wing cry about the horrors of CRT:
“This week, deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre showed how to start fighting back against Republicans’ contradictory and deceptive stance.
Asked about critical race theory in the Virginia contest on Thursday, she began with a full-throated defense of accurate history in instruction: “So, look, America, as you heard the president say before, is a great country,” she said. “And great countries are honest, right? They have to be honest with themselves about the history, which is good and the bad. And our kids should be proud to be Americans after learning that history.”
Zachary D Carter writing as a Guest in The New York Times claims that Biden is not deserting his centrist bona fides.
“There’s a simple reason Mr. Biden’s centrist critics can’t seem to explain themselves. The Build Back Better Act is centrism taken seriously — an effort to fix American democracy through economic support rather than structural political change.
This is not to say Mr. Biden’s agenda lacks ambition. It seeks to refit the American economy as an engine of green growth, reassert American geopolitical leadership and support families who want to work. These are lofty aims, but they constitute a thoroughly centrist agenda. None of the left’s priorities from the 2020 presidential primary — Medicare for All, decriminalized border crossings, a tax on wealth — appear in Mr. Biden’s plan. Nor has the president embraced any of the structural reforms that progressive Democrats have been calling for, such as eliminating the Electoral College, reforming the filibuster or expanding the number of seats on the Supreme Court. Mr. Biden is offering recovery and reform in lieu of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont’s political revolution.”
Many Democrats, still not as extreme as Republicans who seem to want to remake the US government entirely (and not for the better), wanted Dems to be far more progressive and, because of thin margins in Congress, have had to accept things that they feel are half measures – it’s a good start that will not do what is really needed to end the top heavy structure of the current American economy or end the racial animosity that was regurgitated at the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, especially around voting rights and is still infecting American politics as we speak. Immigration is such a hot topic that even a casual mention can raise hackles across the land. As the need for workers to fill low paid jobs gets dire immigration may look more appealing, if controlled. At some point climate change may require that we turn a callous ear to suffering in South America or find a way to move over and make room for our neighbors. For right now the centrists may be correct in saying that talking about immigration is a bridge too far if you want to win elections.
Schooling Democrats about the political necessity of being centrists in this moment if they want to win elections is an attempt to turn the Democratic Party into the Republican Party of the past, before the party was taken over by extremists. Pursuing the kind of middle road that is being ‘counselled’ may win votes from dispossessed Republicans and Independents, but it ignores a progressive spirit which is growing in America, and it turns the federal government into the same old milquetoast, timid, racist political body that is all too familiar. Centrism will not get us to a renewed energetic America. Progressives just might.