December 9, 2020

Why I Don't Consider Myself a Political Centrist or Moderate

Nolan chart (Centrist highlighted)

When it comes to politics, I don't think of myself as a centrist or a moderate. I am left-of-center on most political issues. On some issues, I'm far to the left of where much of today's Democratic Party seems to be. On other political issues, I am close to the center or even somewhat right-of-center; however, this is the case for a much smaller number of issues. So when one averages my left-right position on several issues, I end up being left-of-center. When I think of what it means to be a moderate or a centrist, I think of someone who is relatively close to the center on most political issues. That isn't me.

As a freethinker, I am not crazy about adopting the platform of any political party and reflexively echoing their positions. I prefer to evaluate each issue (or candidate) for myself and make informed decisions independent of party propaganda. This means that I can be left-of-center on one issue, right-of-center on another, and reasonably close to the center on a third. Examples of issues on which I probably could be considered centrist or moderate would include immigration and gun control. I'm sure there are others, but those are the first two that come to mind.

In our modern age of political litmus tests, demands for political purity, and social media outrage, a freethinking approach to politics inevitably results in feelings of political homelessness. It makes sense that the right doesn't want me. I'm not one of them, never have been, and probably never will be. Even if they successfully severed all ties with fundamentalist Christianity and became more libertarian on most social issues, I still wouldn't fit with them on most economic issues or their general approach to government. And so, I can't really blame them for wanting little to do with me. It just isn't a good fit.

As for the left, it doesn't seem like it was that long ago that I considered myself one of them. I'm not sure if their demands for purity have become that much worse, if I've become much less willing to conform to them, or some combination of both. It is clear that many on the left don't want me and consider me insufficiently "woke" to be useful. And while I've been somewhat reluctant to admit it, I suppose it is equally clear that I no longer feel at home among many of them. I perceive some of them as undermining many of the values I consider to be among the most important in a democratic society (e.g., the free expression of ideas, the benefits of exposing ourselves to ideas with which we disagree or find uncomfortable).

The excessive tribalism afflicting many on the left and the right is now such that nothing short of total allegiance will prevent one from being demonized. It does not matter how far to the left I might be on most issues. The few on which I disagree with the left's orthodoxy will be more than enough to have my liberal card revoked. The same would be true of the right. Freethought leads me to question any and every orthodoxy and to go where the evidence leads. And since neither the right nor the left has done an effective job of developing an evidence-based platform, this means that I'm sure to reject at least some portions of either orthodoxy.

I suppose the most difficult thing about this state of affairs is that it looks like reason, civility, and compromise have largely been banished from political discourse. We claim to value reason but seem to demand that it is absent from policy decisions. We demand that the other side be more civil, even as we reward the incivility of our side. "Compromise" has become a dirty word because we want our agenda pushed at all costs. And while we all complain about our elected officials, we rarely do anything meaningful about it. Incumbents win the vast majority of elections, suggesting that we can't even be bothered to vote out those about whom we are so fond of complaining.

Perhaps the fact that I value freethought, reason, and civility or that I recognize that compromise is often necessary to accomplish anything meaningful does move me one step closer to being a centrist or a moderate. Or maybe I am just the same kind of liberal I've always been.