Thursday, 4 August 2005

Appeal of the "Radical Middle"

When 'centrists' or 'moderates' avoid mushiness, and demonstrate that their philosophy incorporates solid principles that are worth defending, their arguments can be very compelling. I have discovered that by Jack Grant's definition, I am a moderate myself. I also find the views of Joe Gandelman at the Moderate Voice to be both sensible and principled, his description of his 1980 vote for Reagan as "one of the most satisfying votes I ever cast" notwithstanding.

I'm not ready to abandon my own self-identification as a liberal quite yet, as will become evident enough over the next two weeks, but as ever informing our policies with the views of principled folks of all stripes should be seen as desirable. I can fault the left as much as the right for spending far too much energy on discrediting the other side, rather than proffering constructive alternatives and in some cases compromises.

It was in that spirit in which I checked out Mark Satin's Radical Middle Newsletter earlier this week. The first article I checked out, Take Back America - or All Together Now, America, a harsh critique of a conference of progressive liberals, almost soured me on Satin's site entirely, due to the contemptuously dismissive tone which was used throughout in describing the various speakers there. There's no surer way to turn me off than the sneer, which I expected the least out of someone purporting to represent a centrist alternative.

Nonetheless, I did give him a second chance by reading his 12 point creative centrist agenda, and am quite happy that I did, and encourage you to check it out as well. Clearly I did not agree with all twelve points without reservation, but they include fresh thinking and radical reform while maintaining existing structures where possible. Ironically, I found some of the points to fall very closely to traditional liberal thought - though that is not too surprising as Mark identifies himself as a former lefty. His eleventh point, "national security via sharing our wealth and expertise with the developing world", sounded like it could have been lifted directly from Jim Wallis' God's Politics, which amused me because of the way Satin had savaged Wallis in the previous article.

The whole business leaves me wondering: If we can't get over the demonization of left and right which is going on so relentlessly right now, maybe the best way forward is to take the best ideas of both and couch them in a radical centrist agenda which may be less poisonous to both sides. The problem is that whatever you call it, the details will get the attention of those whose gravy train it threatens, and demonization and labeling will occur. Still if relabeling can have any impact on getting good policy enacted, let's go for it. There's plenty out there that left and right can agree on if the ideological associations can be muted.

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