Monday, January 07, 2008

A Radical Center?

Are you tired of the bickering extremes? Are you tired of seeing the time and resources of the American people—your time and resources—wasted in bitter and inefficient “nothingness”? Well, you are not alone. It seems that a good sizeable portion of the American people in the middle feels the same way.

Judging by the state of the run-ups to the primaries it looks like the American electorate seems to be looking for a candidate who is paying attention to the center.

Candidates who seem to be calling for change from the programmatic talking points and from the pre-determined agendas by pressure groups are doing better in the polls than those who are perceived as extremes.

This doesn’t mean that the American people are expecting politicians not to have principles and beliefs. But in their own daily lives, people know that many problems do not require a full-fledge battle in order to solve them.

On the other hand, some Americans like New York Times firebrand columnist Paul Krugman, think differently and are actually calling for more partisanship (NY Times 12/26/07). He thinks that the reason for the lowest approval ratings of Congress in history is because Democrats are not “partisan” enough.

Others, like Congressman Peter Hoekstra, think the extremes are part of the problem, not the solution, to solving problems which require practical approaches, not ideological debates (GR Press 12/18/07). He thinks that both political parties need to move toward a “radical middle” to start dealing with problems in the country. However, he further goes on saying, when members of both parties try to come together to work on issues they get bashed by the extremes of both parties.

We all have heard that truth always lies in the middle. That may or may not be true itself but one thing is true, there is plenty of evidence of how the extremes have often led us to historical tragedies. From Russia to Spain, and almost most recently in Venezuela, to our own nation, the pages of human history are fraught with civil wars the result of the intransigence, intolerance, selfishness and propaganda wars of the extremes.

Claiming each to have a total grasp and the only possible version of the truth or only correct option in a situation of conflict, the extremes often overlook, sometimes intentionally, the possibility of practical compromise. Each thinks they have a radical understanding of a situation, and understanding of the roots of a problem (true meaning of the word radical), and thus a unique solution. Yet most of the times they are simply standing or looking at it from the limbs of their extreme position and not from the center were the roots truly are.

What Congressman Hoekstra calls “the radical middle”, and I call the radical center, is not and should not be a refuge to avoid taking hard decisions on any subject. It is neither a way to compromise on principles but a way to focus on essentials and on getting things done.

The extremes are minorities but they are loud, vociferous and valuable at bringing attention to issues. Yet most of the time they have become most effective at blocking solutions to the very problems they wish to solve and protest loudly about. American voters need to support those members of their parties who seek in the best of American civic traditions to meet with others in the middle. Even when some, like Mr. Krugman, believe that “That middle ground doesn't exist”.

In a diverse and pluralistic society such as ours, in the middle of an increasingly shrinking world, we must value and keep in mind the heritage of civility of the American Revolution. Congressman Hoekstra has expressed the same frustration that most Americans feel but he has also proposed a challenge in the middle of our civic and political discourse. Let’s welcome it.