22 March 2010

A Definition of Independence

In the past I've described Kathleen Parker as a moderate conservative columnist. In her latest column she defines herself as a just-plain "moderate" while noting that, in some eyes, moderate means "apostate." Has she confirmed a real shift in her stance or an alienating shift in the larger movement to which she once belonged less ambivalently? Both, probably, but more worthy of our notice is her attempt to define what it means, at this point in history, to be both a moderate and an independent.

Parker addresses herself to the "approximately 70 million" people she believes to be "equally disgusted with both traditional parties and the special interests that control them." Noting that independents now outnumber avowed Republicans and Democrats, she wants to dispel the conventional assumption that the nation is "divided into hard left and hard right." That should be easy, since I doubt that anyone actually believes such a thing. If you're opposed to the "hard left," for instance, you probably don't think of yourself as "hard right." The same is true for opponents of the "hard right;" they don't see themselves as "hard left." Each most likely sees itself, contra Parker, as the mainstream, forced into a "hard" stance by the extreme measures of a singularly "hard" faction. From another perspective altogether, neither faction may appear particularly "hard," but Parker wants to rally those people who see the political sphere split evenly between "hard" factions, those who are really disgusted, not necessarily with the hard core elements of either major party, but with the American Bipolarchy as a whole.

If a moderate, independent majority is neither "hard left" nor "hard right," then what do they stand for? This question doesn't necessarily require an answer, for moderation and independence should encompass pragmatic problem-solving in the national interest and exclude prejudicial, preemptive ideological prescriptions. But Parker presses forward: defining the nation as a whole as "slightly right of center," she identifies "centrists" as "fiscally conservative, socially libertarian-ish." Are "centrists" also "slightly right of center?" They can't be both, and Parker would be better off dropping the whole left-right-center framework. As for fiscal conservatism, it may well be the viewpoint of a majority of Americans, but if it's adopted as a rigid ideology its acolytes instantly cease to be moderates. There are bound to be times in the future when the government will need more money than it expects to have in hand for important purposes. To say that it would never be appropriate to borrow money or print money for such purposes is to put an abstract principle above the national interest, if not above human lives.

As for the "socially libertarian-ish"-ness of centrists, I'd be happy to agree if Parker were less ishy about what she means. Overall, however, her attempt to define the independent, centrist mindset isn't entirely convincing because it's clearly influenced by her lingering conservative biases. We don't need self-styled independents who claim to have all the answers to the nation's problems in advance. They are independent only in relation to the two-party system, but to the extent that they have anything resembling an ideology they aren't as independent as they'd like us to think.

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