Don’t call me a centrist

Yesterday, I quickly outlined some of my political beliefs. In total, according to my reading of current political definitions, they make me a liberal. But admittedly some of those beliefs tend toward the traditionally conservative side.

So, doesn’t that make me a centrist?

No. I absolutely reject that label.

First of all, it’s meaningless. Supposedly a centrist is trying to pave the way between two competing sets of political beliefs – the idea being that they borrow the “best” from each set. But on what grounds do they choose what to borrow? Being a centrist, per se, doesn’t say anything about what principles you’re trying to put into place or who you are trying to serve.

Second, centrism might be viewed as simply a willingness to rationally compromise on contentious matters. That’s fine as far as it goes. But what defines a compromise – a meeting in the center – is determined by what other political actors are able to accomplish. The conservative movement has pushed political life in this country so far to the right that meeting them halfway still leaves you leaning right.

Third, being a centrist – being willing to compromise – is not necessarily a good thing in and of itself. Liberals were not about to compromise when it came to ending slavery. Liberals were not about to compromise when it came to giving women the right to vote. Liberals were not about to compromise when it came to ending the American version of apartheid in the South.

And last, using the label “centrism” is exactly what the conservative movement wants. As I said before, they’ve stacked the political environment in their favor, and they’ve managed to demonize the word liberal itself. That has the effect of neutralizing their true political opposition. It’s better for people whose sympathies are with liberal causes to stand up and proudly proclaim it. That’s the way to political strength and viability. (See one of my first posts here.)

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