Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Vortex or a Flushing Toilet?

[posted by Callimachus]

Zenpundit does the wonk walk like nobody's business, which is why the site is one of my favorites. Here, he laments "the intellectual exhaustion that prevails in our national political class, Left and Right" and looks for a knight in shining armor:

Should the major parties fail to generate some new, creative and relevant ideas in a short time horizon - something that is not likely to happen in my view - it means that 2008 is wide open for somebody "outside" the system who can bring both vision and financial wherewithal to the table as an independent candidate. And of the two, the former is far more important because via the internet the vision will attract the financial muscle.

I liked that so much I nominated it in the Watcher's Council this week. But after reading Alan Stewart Carl's ringing bitch-slap of what passes for the "center" (which includes himself) in modern American politics, I remembered that there can be no knight until there's a coherent army for him to lead. Otherwise, it will just be a personality cult.

He lays it out clinically. The symptoms:

The only thing all centrists have in common is an aversion to extremism and blind ideology. But we have no unifying ideology of our own. We don’t even have a unifying objective.

... If there is indeed “another way,” we’ll never get there by pointing out that Ann Coulter is an idiot and Michael Moore is a fool. We know what we’re not. What we don’t know is who we are.

Yep. It reminds me of the Unitarian Universalist churches I used to attend. A catch-all of people who had nothing in common beyond being repulsed by other organized religions and a will to not give up on collective spirituality entirely. The best minister I ever knew hit on the formula that held his church together: "We don't have to think alike to love alike." But you don't build a political platform out of that kind of softwood. And the political center can't even seem to manage to love alike. Look at Donklephant, where Alan and I both have posted. It's been around for more than a year and only has gotten more schizophrenic. Most days it looks like a head-on train wreck between a soft-left blog and a soft-right one.

The diagnosis:

We don’t know because we centrists keep trying to build the ship before we’ve cut the planks or even felled the trees. No one will take us seriously until we have a defined ideology we can point to and say: that’s me, I believe in that.

I’m not talking platform positions, pro life or pro choice. Pro Iraq or anti-Iraq. I’m talking the fundamental ideas that drive decision making. The left is rooted in Marxism and the belief that the conflict between the haves and the have nots is the axis on which the world spins. The right is rooted in self-determinism balanced by Judeo-Christian traditionalism.

The cure (two alternatives):

If centrism is just a desire for moderation, then so be it. Centrists should join one party or the other and work to moderate it. But if centrism really is a yearning for a new ideology, then we need to stop trying to organize and start thinking. Seriously. You can’t create a movement unless you know where you’re going and what car you’re taking. Centrists know neither and that’s why our nascent efforts fail and will continue to fail.