The schism between political left and right in this country seems to widen by the day. I’ve long defined myself as a centrist who doesn’t cling to a particularly ideology, but who forms opinions on an issue-by-issue basis. One of the benefits of not being doctrinaire is that I get to revisit my thinking as I accumulate more information. This means that my ideas and opinions change, which in the eyes of some, may make me “wishy-washy.” However, I hold that abiding by an outdated view of the world for the sake of consistency is not only ridiculous, but irresponsible. Absent perfect information, the likes of which is only available in an economic utopia, we typically have insufficient data to justify such rigidity. It only makes sense that we reassess our stances with some regularity.
John Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change America and he thinks that we, “the Vital Center” (I’ve always called it “the Creamy Center” because it conjures up images of the best part of a Tootsie pop.) can and will change the country’s political discourse. Regrettably, I’m disinclined to agree with him. I think that the country will swing from right to left and left to right like a pendulum for the foreseeable future. Quite simple, the cost of losing one’s political currency appears to be too great, compelling politicians to toe the party line. Political patronage, rampant “insiderism,” and quid pro quo make it increasingly difficult for elected officials to do what they feel is right if it means being tagged with the maverick label. There are few so bold as John McCain, who has managed to cross party lines and catered to his constituents without resorting to demagoguery. The price? A horrific assault on his character and mental health during the 2000 presidential election.
A political system that has become more partisan and more fractious in recent years has led to a disconcerting attack on checks-and-balances. Take, for example, Tom Delay, a man who purports to stand for – among other things – moral values, small government, and the sanctity of life. Delay, the House majority leader is being investigated on several possible ethics violations (again). He repeatedly intervened in the Terri Schiavo case, attempting to create legislation on a “one-off” basis. And he had the gall to do this after taking his own father off life support years earlier. Now Delay, after threatening the judiciary in general (“We set up the courts. We can unset the courts.”) is attacking Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Republican appointee, for rulings that he perceives as not adhering to strict constructionism. Perhaps his next salvo will be fired at someone else who has reinterpreted the Constitution, the iconic Justice Scalia.