Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Middle Way

Today evangelical Joe Carter has a post on political centrism.

Let's look at it from a Buddhist perspective...

What is the “center” on issues such as abortion or tax cuts where many people believe there is no middle ground?

Who is asking the question? Who is choosing the issues?

What are the priorities?

I am reminded of things like Tolstoy's Three Questions, and Dogen's Tenzo Kyokun.

The presumed existence of an agenda consisting most importantly of diametrically opposed positions is a product of the mind, and like any products of the mind, needs to be examined as to whether such a construction can be used to help foster wisdom, compassion, and generosity or not.

And so, Joe Carter is really flat out wrong when he says:

Unlike the Left and Right, the Center is not defined by a particular philosophical position.

As is obvious from the above, the Center is above or before a knee-jerk Left/Right parsing of the politcal sphere, but certainly not lacking in a philosphical position; indeed one can approach from a Western philosophy of pragmatism as well.

A true centrist, rather than a person who is simply less liberal or less conservative than others within her party, would always take the most pragmatic action in order to avoid alienating her constituency.

Now there is a form of political centrism that looks very similar to what the center-left of the Democratic party wants: an endgame to Iraq, a rising standard of living, a strong economy in the US, a balanced budget.

This is not the status quo, unless by that you mean the New Deal.

Complicating this is...

After examining a significant amount of polling data I was led to the conclusion that on almost any major political issue that requires legislative action, the best course to take is to do nothing. While you will not please everyone, you will be able to consistently satisfy a majority of the voters, thereby securing your incumbency. Centrism, in other words, leads to a tautological electoral strategy: maintaining the status quo maintains the status quo.

I think many politicians think in a sense in the way Carter is thinking, and that's the problem we have today.

It is like never cleaning a kitchen and calling it a kitchen of the "Middle Way." Such a kitchen eventually becomes not simply unusable, but deadly.

But really, Carter ignores a few other points, that as a Buddhist seem obvious:

  • As I noted above, the "issues" are products of the mind. Many voters have been conditioned to see the world framed by a very small number of narratives. That narratives have been changing is undeniable. That some folks try to spin it is also undeniable. Case in point: Dick Durbin sounded quite polite and knowledgeable in dealing with that guy from Powerline yesterday, as I heard it myself on C-SPAN. Durbin quickly got to the issue. You'd never know it from Powerline itself.

  • Americans are getting wise to the fact that their narratives are being framed for them. They figured it out in Vietnam. The fact that new narratives are being created means that politicians pursue a "Liberman" strategy at the risk of their political necks.

  • Thermidor's coming. There will be a much needed corrective to the excesses and contradictions of the rightwing swing in America that really picked up steam in the 80s. Again, there are structural deficiencies that preclude any successful "centrist" politician from being successful.

A successful centrist both in politics and life, needs to step back from frames that either the left or the right make, and propose a solution that works.

This inevitably means that "centrist" looks "leftist" to most conservatives, but looks like something identifiably further to theright to true leftists, Trotskyites, Socialists, Syndicalists, Anarchists, etc.

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