The Rest of U.S. – Who We Are and What We Stand For

January 6, 2010

by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.

Extremists have become so loud, they’re deafening. And because they shout in perfect sound bites, the media birddog their every rant, however irresponsible or outrageous.

But we believe the political tide’s about to turn with a vengeance. No matter their party affiliation or lack thereof, Americans are disgusted with those who harass to harass, obstruct to obstruct, tear down to tear down.

Compromise, consensus, bridge-building, and respect for differing viewpoints have been the hallmarks of American life as long as there’s been an America. We’re certain they will be again.

Between those who think NO government might be best and those who think ALL government would be Heaven . . . . .

Between people who find the notion of the Wild, Wild West romantic and people who want a Trusty Sheriff on every block . . . . .

Between citizens who admire the Robber Barons of old – and their untaxed fortunes – and others who relish the thought of a Perpetual Dole . . . . .

Between visionaries who think there’s a perfect, pristine Utopia of the Right and opposing seers who envision a perfect, pristine Leftist Paradise . . . . .

Between the Ranters and the Ravers, the RINO-Accusers and DINO-Accusers, the Shouters and the Shout-Louders . . . . .

There are The Rest of U.S.

Call us Centrists. Call us Moderates. Or call us the Sane Majority.

Critics of the Center always begin by trying to brand us as non-committal, tentative, and eager to please, like hosts or hostesses at one big political dinner party.

The latter allusion does suit us, although most would prefer the image of a Big Tent to a Big Fete. But certainly, an aura of cordiality and sociability define most Centrists, since we encourage discussion instead of preaching, conversation rather than confrontation.

But for our critics’ “non-committal,” substitute “thoughtful.” Change the “tentative” to “balanced.” And replace “eagerness to please” with “eagerness to listen” or “eagerness to solve hard puzzles.”

Most Centrists think our deliberate character – and penchant for deliberation – is an admirable trait, demonstrating a considerate and intelligent weighing of possibilities. It is not a weakness, but a strength.

So, to the oft-asked question, “What do we believe in?” here are some answers most Centrists would have no trouble agreeing with:

*** We believe in encouraging a constant, ongoing conversation among currently opposed parties – and Parties – even on difficult issues. “Preaching to the choir” and ignoring everyone else is decidedly not our style.

***We believe in building bridges wherever we can, reaching out to even the most hard-nosed and recalcitrant opponents. “My way or the highway” is not a phrase that resonates well with us.

***We believe that litmus tests belong in chemistry lab. We think making one pet issue, however important to you, the be-all and end-all of one’s political participation is a very bad idea. And insisting that one issue be a test of other people’s political “correctness” or “purity” is an even worse one.

***We believe it’s possible to reach viable consensus on even the most thorny, long-standing points of contention. In this sense, we are clearly optimists.

***We believe demonizing one’s political opponents is not only unhelpful, it’s extremely harmful to the fabric of our political life and culture.

***And Yes, we believe that politics should strive to construct a Big Tent, encouraging the greatest possible citizen participation. Everyone who wishes to become part of our nation’s political life and take part in its political discussion should be welcome to do so, courageously and freely, without fear of bullying, character assassination, or reprisal.

Tell Us What You Think:

Have American politics become too strident and polarizing? Why do you think this is so?

Are we in the U.S. fed up with this polarization and primed for a rebellion from the Sane Majority in the Center?

Are you disgusted with the manner in which moderates from both major Parties, as well as some declared Independents, have been raked over the coals by extremists for seeking to reach consensus on difficult issues?

How can we change the entire tone of political discussion and debate? And are the media at least partly to blame?

If you are a local official or candidate, how are you putting Centrist principles to work in your own political endeavors? Please let us know.

For the next story in this series, 1,000 Zealots Versus The Sane Majority – Why So Many Political Polls Are Wrong, see: http://wp.me/PHjxC-m

For Dr. Brandt’s bio and more about her work as an Internet publisher, see About This Site: http://newcentristera.wordpress.com/about/

For her already-influential blog Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation, go to: http://angriestgeneration.wordpress.com

For EllenInteractive, her diverse and diverting blogsite, see: http://elleninteractive.wordpress.com

To join the new Centrists Group at Linked In, click on: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=2431825&trk=myg_ugrp_ovr

To join the new Centrists Twibe at Twitter, go to: http://twib.es/Centrists

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24 Responses to “The Rest of U.S. – Who We Are and What We Stand For”

  1. Grant Bergman Says:

    Admirable as I find these Centrist values to be, I think they map to a different spectrum than Left vs. Right or Liberal vs. Conservative.

    Call that spectrum Reasoned vs. Dogmatic or Respectful vs. Rude or Moderate vs. Extremist or Pragmatic vs. Ideological, but to me it describes something different from political philosophy.

    Most people – I believe wrongly – do not think Obama is a Centrist, but I feel he qualifies under the terms discussed here. He certainly has not governed from the extremes, judging by his actual record, much to the dismay of many fervent Liberals.

    In truth there are thoughtful people along every point of the political spectrum, but their sound bites don’t play well in the cable news media trying to cover the political news as a year-round campaign. . . even when there is no election.

    The Centrists discussed here are in no way a voting bloc at this point, because there is no common political philosophy – just a shared philosophy of how we wish politics were conducted.

  2. Joe Ryan Says:

    Hi Ellen,

    I am a candidate running for Congress in California’s 52nd District.

    I believe in the grassroots, so I refuse to take money from anyone or any entity. And I don’t hate any citizen from the Left or Right I disagree with.

    Like you, I am bothered by all the rancor in politics today.

  3. R Skinner Says:

    In my opinion there are four apocalyptic horses of extremism that are paralyzing our Nation and stifling progress:

    1. Virulent extremist sound bites from partisan media

    2. War-like promotion of hate and aggressiveness

    3. Famine of constructive bipartisan ideas

    4. Dearth of ideas as a result of a perfected Orwellian partisan Newspeak

  4. Christopher B. Says:

    Ellen,

    It is refreshing to read what I have read on this site. You seem to speak for the majority of Americans who are neither Democrat nor Republican.

    My observation is that the two Parties could care less about the people of this nation. Their agenda is first and foremost.

    With the Republicans, it’s trying to convince people they’re for “smaller government,” while at the same time pushing the agenda of the Religious Right, who want nothing to do with smaller government.

    Democrats on the other hand, care deeply about the “working man,” when they’re not busy sneering at him, of course. And if he’s not living in the South.

    The two Parties love the finger-pointing because it mobilizes their “base,” but the interests of the base rarely mirror those of the rest of America.

    For our nation to succeed, sanity, intellect, and compromise have to enter our political sphere. Without it, this nation is done.

  5. G. Denise Says:

    All I can say is Aaaaaahhhhhh! I’ve been waiting to exhale.

    I turn on the TV, then turn it off in disgust. I read comments on the Internet, and turn that off.

    I have always believed that one of the greatest things about this country was its ability to come back to the Center when things go crazy at either extreme.

    Your blog has given me hope.

  6. Hippie Prof Says:

    I will indeed be back to take a look. This looks like the kind of site that favors discussion over blind rhetoric – my kind of place.

    I think you are spot-on about the Tea Party movement, too – the rank-and- file have been badly misled by the leaders – leaders who are not, in my opinion, really working in the best interests of the members.

  7. Hippie Prof Says:

    Hi – I saw your link over on AtlanticWire. . .

    Maybe you will call me an extremist – but I would hope you would not. I believe that rational dialogue and mutual respect is the only path we have out of this mess we find ourselves in.

    You might find my views to be well Left of center – but you will also find me willing to respectfully discuss the issues.

    This having been said, I have been trying all day to find someone on the right to condemn Tancredo’s hate speech opening the Tea Party convention.

    Curious what you think. Are you willing to condemn his rhetoric?

    • ellenbrandtphd Says:

      Prof,

      I believe that while many in the Tea Party rank and file are decent, well-meaning people, they have been badly misled by many of their leaders – and main funders – who are, first of all, not Republicans and secondly, using the one-issue advocates for their own purposes.

      The Tea Party’s major supporters and funders are Libertarians of a particularly rabid – i.e. anti-government, especially bipartisan government – slant.

      They have misled one-issue people in the Conservative camp in the exact same way similarly Libertarian gurus and large funders have been misleading sincere but misguided one-issue people on the Far Left for decades now.

      I will be writing a blog about the Tea Partiers very shortly. I hope you will come back to read it.

  8. Juli W. Says:

    People will tell a pollster that they care more about jobs, the economy, and safety, but they will always vote for the guy that shares their “values” – by which they usually mean social issues and religion.

    It is time to leave social issues and religion to their own properly appointed venues in society. Let’s get something done already. Let’s bring back true government – and true reporting and media.

  9. DC Says:

    Dr. Brandt writes “Have American politics become too strident and polarizing? Why do you think this is so?”

    Yes, simplistic, divisive, dogmatic answers are screamed at us 24/7.

    It seems obvious to me why: It is very profitable for those who do so. Divide and conquer, distract us, and we won’t pay attention while we are robbed blind.

  10. Paul Silver Says:

    I have become active with Common Cause and other national reform groups. We recently distributed almost 200,000 signed petitions to congresspeople asking them to support the Fair Elections Now Act HR 1826 to help neutralize the influence of special interests. Congresspeople respond to large organized movements of their constituencies.

  11. Abigail H. Says:

    Ace website.

    Please maintain the nice work, and I look forward to more of your gripping writings.

  12. William Weiss Says:

    I agree with you on many points.

    We do need to stop the fighting. At most every point in life, balance is the answer which the center provides. But to get a rally of people, we need to define what are moderate or centrist viewpoints.

    An example might be semi-free trade versus laissez-faire or pure government-controlled trade.
    Another example would be the right to bear arms but addressing which arms are reasonable for you to bear.

    Anyone who has children learns that parenting is all about balance. You want your child to try to climb the stairs, but you don’t let them fall down two flights.

  13. Dan G Says:

    I think the blog, as such, is well-reasoned and reasonable. Although I’ll admit to a bias on most issues – Left for some, Right for others – I am often appalled by the tactics and arguments used even by those with whom I agree.

    The key to success for Centrism, however, is success. That is, as long as we simply encourage discussion and inclusion. . . but do not get to a conclusion and action. . . we deserve the tag as “wishy washy”. Having a gigantic debate without end serves no one but the extremists.

    Therefore, principles must be added to the above. We need to acknowledge that not everyone will enter the Big Tent, even if we’re optimistic that they will. We need to believe that a certain level of consensus is sufficient. . . that debate will not go on forever nor will acclamation be required before we act as a nation on an issue.

    Further, in today’s world, every representative’s position is a line in the sand, making consensus-building difficult, and every failed experiment (however small) a reason to throw him/her out of office, leading to inflexible legislation (the embodiment of litmus tests in the law). We need representatives to feel that they will not be pilloried for voting for a single, small program if the program fails. Otherwise, getting to action will be all the more difficult.

  14. Edward Sachs, Jr. Says:

    Dear Ellen,

    I read most of the comments to see if Centrism means something different to me than to most others commenting. Frankly, like my value set, my sense is comments reflect a slight right-of- Center bent.

    Our country was founded to achieve Centrism, not to channel resources through the central government. Whatever one’s views, the federal and state governments have become too large and possibly corrupted to be effective channels of wealth and spending. It seems the old must be replaced by the new for a better, happier Nation.

    As Centrists, we can’t force that change. We can’t create a new party for Centrists with a chance of near- term success.

    Could a practical, timely, achievable answer be that we need to look at the basics of the Nation’s principles?

    We need to educate ourselves and to promote a growing public awareness of how the system should work if political outcomes and policies are realistic. With our backgrounds and resources, we could be factor in public policy debates. Our argument would be in improving the structure of governance. If the anger is broad and deep enough, we can have an effect rather quickly thanks to the Internet and websites.

    Are we asking too much of the political process, which brings out hard and fast taking of sides in a two-party system? Have we reached a tipping point that has “gamed” the system?

    To this question, I would now advocate term limits, an end to gilt- edged federal retirement and medical programs, and campaign funding limits in a relentless manner. Centrist Commissions are another practical partial solution.

    The system is not trading off concerns of the people in a way that reflects the daily life of the people. It needs to reflect the leadership of a republican model with the voice of a plebiscite, democratic model.

    Structurally, how do we arrive at that point? What sort of comments are out there? what do others feel as the way to take effect in a balanced efficient, nonpartisan way?

    • ellenbrandtphd Says:

      Ted,

      Nice little blog-within-a-blog, and I hope you will expand it into a piece we can post on this site when it’s open to Contributors- probably in early February.

      I must disagree with your initial point, however.

      If there have been slightly more Right-of-Center than Left-of-Center Comments so far, it is totally an accident.

      The Centrists Group at Linked In is split down the middle – pun intended – between nominal Democrats and nominal Republicans. And I expect both those who leave Comments on this site and those who write for it as Contributors will also be about equally divided between the two major Parties, with some Independents, too.

      Independents are actually the anomaly right now. A fair number of political Comment-makers on the Internet are parts of rabid – and well-funded – Libertarian groups, which may identify themselves as “Independents,” but are most certainly not Centrist.

      I’ll expand on this point in future articles.

      • Bill Jones Says:

        You will find on the fringes people who have lost all sense of perspective. And they now have the internet – a free soap box – to spread first-class nonsense.

  15. Art Says:

    One of my mentors in senior living advised me never to discuss politics or religion in any of my buildings.

    Without knowing it, he was advocating a Centrist philosophy. His point was that I would never have a situation in which all of the residents shared a universal opinion. Therefore, as a member of management, I could please “some of the people, some of the time” but ran the risk of seriously offending a portion of the resident population all of the time.

    Both of these topics are emotionally- charged issues. A senior living community (as a microcosm of the broader community) must find a balance for the differing cultures of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions, and even accommodate the various denominations (e.g. Catholic vs Protestant, Orthodox vs Reformed, etc.).

    In politics, the acolytes of the liberal and conservative movements, as well as the Democrat, Republican and other parties are just as zealous in their beliefs as any religious organization. They tend to show little patience with “non-believers” and expect unwavering commitment to their faith.

    Questioning or challenging positions within their group are considered disloyal activities and highly discouraged.

    I grew up in a part of the country where the “two party system” was a joke. The elections were effectively determined in the primary, because the other party had virtually no chance ever to win the election. Free choice was unheard of. Children were expected to do two things when they grew up: join the dominant party (and vote a straight ballot) and join the union.

    Fortunately, it’s a lot easier to learn about the issues in today’s Information Age, and people are encouraged to make up their own minds. I guess that’s what being a Centrist is all about.

    Oops, sorry Ellen – did I just get up on the soap box and “preach to the choir”?

  16. Wayne Perkey Says:

    Good message – well reasoned and on target.

    Thanks

  17. Joe Says:

    Principled centrism is badly needed. Good for you for getting this going, Dr B.

    Unprincipled centrism is easy for extremists to lampoon as wishy-washy and disinterested. That lampooning has been very effective lately.

    Lampooning (specifically polarizing and personalizing) political issues is an explicit political technique. It is actually taught by the Industrial Areas Foundation community organizing group.

    It has enjoyed good success in dealing with social justice issues. The fruit of the technique is well-known because it’s designed to make news. If a bank is redlining a neighborhood, picket the CEO’s own house and make sure journalists film it.

    The extremist right has also mastered this technique. They’re highly skilled at demonizing people and issues to oppose them.

    Effective centrism needs an explicit principle that can take away the power of “personalize and polarize.” Is it possible to make a short slogan out of this kind of principle? Maybe “Dialogue Not Diatribe!”

    We have some work to do.

  18. Craig Madsen Says:

    It’s so nice to see a listing of beliefs that focus on inclusion rather than exclusion.

    I believe we are entering a time when “commissions” may be the new operating method – the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission becoming the model. Using that model, a centrist panel of members creates an “up or down” legislative proposal that precludes amendments. It worked very well for reducing the Military’s infrastructure.

    Such a model might be applied towards entitlement reform, tax reform, and other thorny issues, both at the National level and within my own home state of California.

  19. Rich Sun Says:

    Well said: power to the middle. Consider the power of moderation: if memory serves, according to polls 20% of voters self identify as liberals, 40% as moderates and 40% as conservatives. That means a moderate candidate starts with 40% of the vote and gets 55% if he or she gets 1/4 of the conservatives and liberals. That is a borderline landslide and more votes than Obama got. Not The only problem is getting past the primaries. The party that fixes that problem wins elections.

    • ellenbrandtphd Says:

      Rich,

      I think those polls are enormously misleading – and will tell you why at length in a future story.

      • Kathie Moore Says:

        Sarah Palin is often regarded as a lightning rod, perhaps the poster child for division between opposing camps.

        However, I was heartened by a comment during one of her numerous appearances to promote her book.

        There can be few subjects as contentious as the issue of reproductive freedom. When asked about her reaction when informed that her son would be a Downs Syndrome child, she responded that for a moment she could understand why some women make the choice to terminate.

        I found optimsim in that remark. Not that she condoned that choice. Not that she would make that choice. But that she could understand that choice.

        Understanding is what I strive to find and encourage in others. It’s where progress can begin.


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