Mike the Mad Biologist

Now that the Democrats have taken both houses of Congress, there will be loud calls for them to govern from center. This silliness will be promulgated by the likes of David Broder and other Mainstream Media Mandarins who suffer from Complusive Centrist Disorder. Complusive Centrist Disorder has always bothered me because a certain policy or view will mysteriously be labelled ‘centrist’ regardless of where it actually falls on the political spectrum, and suddenly it will be far more respectable than other policies. It’s intellectual cowardice and laziness of a high order.

One problem is that policies, and consequently politics, are often zero-sum. Somebody will gain at the expense of someone else. For example, the mortage interest tax deduction occasionally comes up for discussion. Without getting into all of the arguments for and against changing or eliminating this tax deduction, it’s pretty clear that changing it would cost those who claim it (or at least some of those depending on the details). It would help those who do not claim it–they would no longer subsidizing those who claim the deduction, and the extra revenue could be used in a different way.

A politically acceptable compromise might be to cap the deduction and limit it to one residence (although capping the deduction would still ‘hurt’ those who own expensive housing). However, it does not necessarily follow that this is the best course of action. While political expediency has its place–after all, there’s a lot of stuff to do and we can’t argue endlessly about everything–the idea that this policy, or any other compromise policy, is optimal does not necessarily follow.

In this case, you might actually think my proposal is the best policy. However, the problem with Compulsive Centrist Disorder is that it short-circuits any discussion, since the compromise is automatically assumed to be a good idea. Rather than having to defend the centrist policy (which, again, may or may not be the optimal policy), the middle ground, or what the Mandarin Class deems to be the middle ground, which is not always the same thing, gains unwarranted status by default.

There’s nothing a priori wrong with the center, but there’s nothing automatically right about it, either.

A related note: Publius has a different, and interesting, take on the centrists. They’re craven.


  1. #1 Joshua
    November 13, 2006

    CCD has long bothered me, as well, for just the reason you state. It’s intellectually lazy.

    There’s an important distinction to draw, of course, between CCD and compromise, which is a vital part of the political process. I’d say the difference is in the laziness that you mention, combined with the completely unfounded assumption of superiority for the “centrist” position. CCD positions are just a popularity game that lets politicians seem accommodating and thoughtful without having to actually think. On the other hand, compromise is based on a genuine struggle of two sides to each best meet their own goals. It’s much harder and often makes one side or another look stubborn when they won’t concede some vital point. But I think we can all agree that compromise is more intellectually honest and usually results in better policies being enacted.

    One of the reasons I like a Democratically-controlled Congress so much is that most Democrats seem to understand compromise fairly well. But one of the things I hate most about the Democrats is that a lot of them have the worst cases of CCD. For example, Joe Lieberman and the rest of the Republican Lite gang. I think most of the “Democrats have no ideas” trope is based on this, which is why it pisses me off so when pundits trumpet this election as a vindication of conservative Democrats. It’s popular to think that the American electorate is stupid, and while it’s true that often they can be uninformed and lack interest in investigating specific issues, they have pretty well-tuned bullshit detectors and they can smell the dishonesty of CCD a mile away.