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Where has the center gone?

The center has been systematically destroyed by what is now identified as "neo-con" politics and which began in the 1960's with William Buckley's "National Review" characterization of "liberalism" as "leftist". This "conservative" viewpoint took off with Barry Goldwater's "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice," (which really says that the center constituted an attack on liberty), and continues up to the present day with Dubya's idea that "You are with us or against us," (which really means that if you object to the domination of politics by the Republican Party, as manifest in the USA Patriot Act, you are a supporter of terrorism).
There are still a few journalists around that would like to present "balanced" reporting -- where the "neo-con" Republicans and the "liberal" Democrats are each given their due. Thus, so the theory used to go, a center will be found and that will result in a bi-partisan consensus to guide the course of the nation. There's a problem though, always, in such efforts to pursue balanced reporting and thus to resurrect the old paradigm of the center; and, the perfect example of that problem is the undermining and gutting of the Fairness Doctrine by Republican politics and power since the Reagan Administration. Overall, the problem really is that the center has been systematically destroyed by what is now identified as "neo-con" politics and which began in the 1960's with William Buckley's "National Review" characterization of "liberalism" as "leftist". This "conservative" viewpoint took off with Barry Goldwater's "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice," (which really says that the center constituted an attack on liberty), and continues up to the present day with Dubya's idea that "You are with us or against us," (which really means that if you object to the domination of politics by the Republican Party, as manifest in the USA Patriot Act, you are a supporter of terrorism). True, you could argue that such recent statements should be seen as intended only for the international context of the "War on Terror" -- but it is impossible not to feel the effect of that divisionist thinking in the context of the "culture war" which has, after all, been declared as the domestic branch of the "War on Terror" by the Republicans who would like to be respectfully known as "the conservatives" or even as "the Christian Right."

I call it the "neo-con" (that is, "new-conservative") movement even though there is nothing conservative about their efforts to polarize America, their destruction of the natural environment, their declaration of war on what little remains of our social safety net and our concept of free education for all, their financing of tax rebates for the rich during war-time by nothing but shameless deficit financing. True conservatism is the view that there is no ideology that can trump tradition -- not the view that some quasi-libertarian economic theory should guide us in revamping the economic/social fabric of the nation. True conservatism respects tradition and finds it in the mainstream life of the nation -- not attempting to re-define the mainstream through domination of the mass media by transnational corporate power. Winston Churchill, for example, was a strong supporter of the social safety net and of free education for all. Count Otto von Bismarck strongly supported the institution of a national social security system in Germany over a century ago, and that conservative program continues well and strong in Germany even after two disastrous wars. True conservatism would never take after our social security system, seeking to destroy it, when that system has become a part of the basic fabric of our nation functioning now for two-thirds of a century. True conservatism in America would never have promoted and worked toward the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade, citing as reason a fanatical faith in an untested theory of unregulated global markets. True conservatism in America would never promote the ideology of total privatization of natural resources and the pillaging of the national wealth. True conservatism, of course, entails fiscal responsibility and supports responsible regulation of commerce and industry.

I am two-thirds of a century old, so I can actually remember a time when most Americans thought positively of the "two-party system" as a means to finding and keeping to the "middle of the road". What has happened is that the middle of the road is no longer something to be located through the centrist politics of a "two-party" system but has been re-defined as the path that a corporate global power-elite tells us is the inevitable direction of history. Thus, notably, the people were never consulted about NAFTA and GATT. We were simply told that it was the inevitable direction of history. Corporate media failed to report any opinion polls on the subject during the phony debate on what in our newspeak vocabulary is called "free trade." Why? Because the American people were opposed to it. And still are opposed to it. Talking heads have been reviewing the politics of the 1990's for years now, talking about the election of 1996, without ever mentioning the deciding force in that election -- Ross Perot -- which was simply and purely opposition to NAFTA and GATT. Bob Dole campaigned for re-election to the Senate in 1994 on the basis of his avowed opposition to the free-trade agenda, then flip-flopped and stood to shake hands with Bill Clinton on the successful passage of GATT fast-track authorization. Yet the talking heads never mention that essential feature of the defeat of Dole in the 1996 election. As a result of such political workings, the public has come to see the "middle of the road" and the "two-party system" as nothing but the venue for domination of politics in the U.S.A. by global corporate interests. And this cynicism of the public is justified by reality.

So I see and hear Republicans, so-called "Reagan Democrats," and the like complain that things have become polarized and they can't even talk to the Democrats that they know without feeling that they are taking a beating. Similarly, Democrats cannot abide the hypocrisy of today's corrupt Republicanism pretending to be conservatism. What I know, with all my 67 years of experience and observation as an American, is that the Republican Party, having dedicated itself for decades to the denigration and ultimate destruction of the center, now must live with the success of their program. I seem to recall an old saying -- "Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it."

PS For more on the destruction of the Fairness Doctrine, where that destruction can be traced back to the Reagan Administration, see recent (June 7, 2004) article by William Rivers Pitt at www.truthout.org.
center of what? 10.Jun.2004 17:57

reader

The idea that there is a "center" between 2 distinct opposing viewpoints is fanciful at best; delusional at worst. I think it's good we are dispensing with such antiquated understandings of beliefs and values. The republicans are no longer conservative and the democrats are no longer liberal. Now is the time to build something better than a 2 party system and a 2 party mindset.

Misc. comments 10.Jun.2004 21:45

Dendrocnide

I'm more interested where the radicals have gone.

First, looking back at US history, I really don't see any time where there was a "center" advocating basic decency and civility. I forget who first quipped it, but a moderate is someone who, faced with an argument between someone who claims 2 + 2 = 4 and someone else who claims 2 + 2 = 5, concludes that 2 + 2 = 4.5.

The great "center" stood idly by and refused to get involved when Blacks were first slaves, and were subject to de-facto and de-jure apartheid. It was radicals that were willing to upset the applecart and make a stink over the issue. Only then did it become something the liberals (and, later, moderates) were concerned with.

Until the big demonstrations and actions of the Sixties, the Democrats were more concerned with maintaining party unity by placating their white racist southern wing than they were over the human rights of Blacks. And before the Democrats were concerned with it, there was "bipartisan consensus" that the problem wasn't to be touched. Anyone making a stink over such issues was a "political extremist" who had deviated far from the "mainstream".

Or take the whole "fairness doctrine" since the original poster brings it up. It's actually a regressive measure that was part of a process of concentrating radio station ownership into private hands. Before FDR restructured ownership into the hands of the corporations, commercial radio was hardly the dominant model in the US. It was certainly _a_ model that was far from rare, but only one of _many_ models. Radio stations were commonly owned by churches, municipal governments, fraternal organizations, school districts, labor unions, and non-profit groups (to pick a few examples) as well.

Yes, FDR. The liberal's hero. FDR needed a media that would broadcast his Fire-Side Chats and other messages to the public. That meant, in this case, big national networks which were grateful to his administration for a big political favor. So he handed the airwaves to corporate America as part of a quid pro quo.

Far from being a progressive measure, the "fairness doctrine" was merely a sop thrown to the public to placate the worst of the outrage over this theft of the public airwaves. It was Reaganite historical revisionism that redefined it as part of an unacceptably liberal status quo.

Anyhow, getting back to the radicals and change. Progressive change has quite simply _never_ been the work of Nice Liberals acting alone. There's always been a radical undercurrent which changed the calculus of the political elite from "concede some power or keep all of it" to "concede some power or lose all of it".

And there's the rub. In effect, the old slogan "capitalism cannot be reformed" is true. It's not true in a strict sense: reforms CAN in fact be made. However, they're never made in the absence of a bigger threat to the system, and once that threat vanishes, the reforms get taken back. Revolutionary action is the indispensable ingredient of any progressive change.

As for conservatism, traditionalist conservatism of the Burkean variety is fundamentally incompatible with capitalism, which is simply too dynamic and change-fostering a system to leave the traditional social structures valued by such conservatives intact. Since we're in a capitalist society, it stands to reason that capitalist ruling elite would have little interest in a belief system that fails to grant them moral legitimacy. Instead, other ideologies (which happen to share the "conservatism" label) must be sought out.

Portland, OR
Why Should We Play by Their Rules?
Why Should We Play by Their Rules?

Good comments, but not what I said 11.Jun.2004 16:00

67-year-old

I don't know why it always happens this way. I am pointing out that the very concept of the center is no longer a reality, so obviously that should further the creation of "something better" than the two-party system. A little more on what that "something better" might be would be helpful.

Dendrocnide:

I am also interested in where the radicals have gone. And, btw, why has there never been a successful social democratic or labor party in the U.S.? Where is the Socialist Party these days? Yes, let's go on that topic: where have the radicals gone? Into the Green Party, by way of hoping to reform it from within? (But giving up on reforming the Democratic Party from within? Why the one but not the other?) But mostly, why not a leftist united front party? Where is it? What is (are) the problem(s)? Not in defense of the Democrats, but I do get tired of the blame-the-Democrats for the failure of radical politics. Does it really advance anything to keep repeating that mantra (or curse)? How's this for a concept: maybe we could USE the progressive wing of the Democrats to further the growth of a radical movement, rather than insist upon throwing the baby out with the bath-water into the cold street where it probably won't survive. Yes, they would also USE us, but that's life isn't it?

Describing what politics is today -- focus on the concept of a the missing "center" -- why do you then seem to take me to task for being a "liberal". Just because my criticism is aimed at the neo-con Republicans, that doesn't make me any more of a "liberal" or a Democrat than you are. Just because I am two-thirds of century old, that hardly makes me uninformed about the Roosevelt administration. However, while already known to me, good points about the history of broadcasting in the U.S.A. are made in your comments.