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.