Monday, November 13, 2006

Not a Centrist

[posted by Callimachus]

It's not like I'll get all ballistic on you if you call me that. I understand it's a convenient shorthand for someone in the modern political scene who doesn't follow party lines on either side and tends to criticize or admire certain leaders and positions both red and blue.

"Independent" would be a better word in such a case, but it's already taken in the sense of "person with no party affiliation," which excludes many people who fit the above description, including me.

But it seems to me "centrist," like "independent," also has a natural definition. A centrist is someone who takes the measure of the weight on either side of a political question and takes his position on the balance point between them. The species only can flourish in a pure two-party system. But it has the advantage of appearing more sophisticated than either a pure red or pure blue attitude, without really being so.

Left says, "Bush's negligence is to blame for 9/11" or "the Palestinian problem has everything to do with Osama's rage against America." Right says, "Clinton's decisions are to blame for 9/11" or "the Palestinian problem is just a cover story for the real roots of Osama's rage against America."

If you're a "centrist" all you have to do is say, "you're both partially right," and without even necessarily knowing whether that's true, you're probably one step up the evolutionary ladder from both of the sides. Because chances are they're both partly right.

But you still haven't really broken out of the dualism just because you've connected two points and made a line. Any more than you have by taking one of those "so far right, it's left" positions beloved of libertarians.

The position I'm looking for is one that considers what both sides say, but then goes down to the cellars of their arguments and swings a sledgehammer at the foundation to see if it holds up. Follow the references, check the footnotes, and go gather some research on your own. Put everything to the baloney test: Does it fit the known facts? Is it internally consistent? Ideally, ignore the stated positions and come to a conclusion entirely on your own. Definitely ignore the personalities on either side.

That's pretty difficult in most things, where the staked-out positions have a glare like Las Vegas that interferes with true independent stargazing. I don't hold it up as what I am, but rather as an ideal. If I live up to it one day in seven, I've had a good week.

The results can be startling, and not at all "centrist." On certain issues connected to American history I've spent a lot of time and effort in reaching an independent conclusion that runs well to the right of even the modern GOP. I've had a long article published in "Southern Partisan," which fact alone means I can never run for public office in most parts of the U.S. Yet my research on the topic also has been cited and quoted enthusiastically by African-American Web sites and authors, one of whom even drove up from South Carolina to talk to me about it.

More like one of those "make a face" books my son had when he was little: A series of heads -- of a pirate, a queen, a businessman, a hippie -- sliced into four or five horizontal strips that you flip at random to make a person part pirate, part hippie, part businessman, part queen.