Moderate, Centrist, Middle-of-the-Road: What’s in a Name?
Yesterday, as I was exploring the website of a fellow moderate (Stephen Erickson, executive director of the newly launched CenterMovement.org) who had the good grace to link with me, I noticed that he prefers to be known as a centrist. Mr. Erickson writes:
By “center” we don’t necessarily mean “moderate.” Yes, we hope to maintain a moderate tone and reasoned approach to politics and public policy. And yes, we will often find ourselves between the right and the left on the political spectrum, and we will look for common ground. But in the end political movements are not built on lukewarm positions. “We demand everything the extremists do, only less of it!” isn’t much of a rallying cry.
Nor is moderation necessarily where we are philosophically. Instead of looking for compromises in every scrap of legislation churning its way through Congress, we seek out the broad center of the American political tradition. We are not afraid of radical structural change when such change promises to restore the spirit of American democracy. When it comes to the currently dysfunctional areas of healthcare, education, and the election system, for examples, we think drastic change is required. Moderate temperament need not lead to timid measures.
Well said, especially the last line. This Mr. Erickson is my kind of moderate: one who isn’t afraid to take radical positions in defense of the common good. Because, as he knows, sometimes compromise isn’t enough. Sometimes you need to break a bone to reset it properly. We denizens of the political center sometimes need to take radical positions (like my own immoderate tirades against Wall Street and lobbyists) if we want to offset the power and interests of the extremists who dominate the political debate.
But what do we call ourselves: moderates or centrists? Does it matter? I’ve always used the labels interchangeably, so the distinction piqued my interest. Wikipedia defines “centrist” in these terms:
So, according to the sages at Wikipedia, a centrist would be someone who espouses moderate ideas. Does that help? You could just as easily add that a moderate is someone who espouses centrist ideas. And there we are, back at square one.
I’m inclined to think that the distinction between “centrist” and “moderate” boils down to the whiff of nuance surrounding both words. “Centrist” comes across as more strictly political and crisply defined than “moderate.” A centrist would wear a suit, live in Washington and organize grassroots campaigns to prevail over the extremists.
“Moderate” comes closer to defining an attitude, a philosophy — even a way of life — than describing an organized political party. It’s a gentler and more contemplative word, which explains the tendency of so many commentators to dismiss moderates (unfairly, of course) as spineless compromisers.
I’m sticking to my guns as a moderate, though I wholeheartedly support the centrists. I don’t think any reasonable reader of The New Moderate could call me timid. (They might call me a lot of other things, and that’s fine.)
As I always like to point out (in fact, I think I did in my previous post), a moderate can become a revolutionary if pushed hard enough. I like to think I’m that kind of moderate. I hope you are, too. A radical moderate, not a middle-of-the-road moderate. We aim to stir the pot, battle the extremists and promote “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Maybe we should call ourselves “majoritarians.” What do you think?
Regardless of what we call ourselves, my role here is to generate passion for our cause. When my job is done, the party organizers can take over and I’ll retire happily to my library. I still need to finish Moby-Dick, read Don Quixote and raise my son before I’m whisked away to the compost heap.