Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Centrists Are Soft on Principles?

Written by johnleemk on 2:14:50 pm Jul 30, 2007.
Categories: ,

I have always been interested in American politics. When I go to university this September, I will be on one of the few, if not the only campus that has seen all the candidates for the presidential election in 2008 from both major parties.

Of course, I've been following the political events in America for quite a while now. (It does give me something to do to pass the time.) While perusing one of the better political blogs out there, I was struck by what John Edwards, candidate for the Democratic nomination, had to say of his fellow candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama:

We cannot get bold change by compromising [a la Obama] with the people who have the power now. Compromise (aka Obama) is not going to get us there, triangulation [a la Clinton] is not going to get us there, being careful is not going to get us there.
Of course, that's a bit painful, considering that my ideal ticket for 2008 would be Clinton-Obama. (Of course, it's not that I really love or support them; I just disagree with them the least when I look at all the other candidates in both parties.)

I won't bother defending Clinton or Obama — at least not by referring to anything specifically related to them. What I'm interested in addressing is Edwards' broad tarring of political centrists as people who are weak on principles.

I don't know why, but those on the farther ends of the political spectrum love to denigrate those in the middle, even though (as the common statistical distributions would suggest) most people are actually closer to the centre of the spectrum.

Being a centrist does not mean you have no principles, or that you have no ideals. It means that you are not hindered by your general ideology in examining the merits of other ideas, and examining the disadvantages of ideas usually tied to your own ideology.

Just because I am closer to the centre (I consider myself a libertarian in general, but I don't typically agree with the broad stands of many libertarians) doesn't mean I don't have the conviction to hold my ground on a particular issue.

You don't need to be strongly for the death penalty, strongly for abortion, strongly for the free market, strongly for gay rights, strongly for the welfare state, strongly for anything, to have strong convictions about that issue.

I strongly believe that the death penalty should be used minimally, but not abolished. Is this centrist, perhaps seemingly wishy-washy or flip-flopping stand a stance that cannot be held strongly?

I believe that the free market is an effective mechanism for allocating scarce resources in most cases, but that sometimes the market gets it wrong, especially in the case of goods and services consumed collectively by the community. Is it impossible for me, or anyone else, to strongly adhere to this?

Denouncing a moderate stand as unprincipled, as Edwards has done, is simply dishonest. Nobody can say for sure whether Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama sincerely believe in the principles they expostulate, though I think they do. There are reasons to suggest otherwise, but accusing them of insincerity simply because they are moderate is not one of them.

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