Monday, September 04, 2006

Populism vs. Centrism, or Whatever

Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman have had a little argument about centrist "technocratic" solutions to social and economic problems versus more populist and implicitly or explicitly Democratic ones. DailyKos presents a roundup of the conversations this argument has sparked in different corners. All I really wanted to add, was that it seems to me that beyond the sometimes seductive, always irksome, philosopher-king pretensions of DeLong's POV, what is very clear from his situation of "technocratic centrism" is the following: what centrists like DeLong want, and this is a group that, at least rhetorically, includes folks like Joe Klein, Sullivan, Lieberman, but also probably much more intelligent people, like DeLong, is really an end to politics, not a "centrist" politics. politics are agonistic all the way down, that's how they happened, that's how they work. i don't really love the stupidity this leads to, but that's the way it is. so a politics of sustained centrism is really only code for an end to politics. i think this position is alluring to a large group of intellectuals, burghers, and media-friendly politicians who cringe at the memory and the history of America's various flirtations with a faddish marxism, and who also cringe at the apparent barbarism of the cultural right. but, as always, the far left and the far right have concerns that, however unpleasantly articulated, are real concerns, real expressions of desire. and not just the far left or right -- people. and people who perceive that they have needs, material or spiritual, bring their desire to the forum. what folks like DeLong want is the forum to be closed, regulated, administered, secure. His is a Utopian vision, that like all utopianisms is quite beautiful, but also brutal, wrong-headed, and destined to fail.


At 1:15 PM, Blogger Quaker said...

Perhaps the "centrist" view is a bit more nuanced than the writer suggests. Is it really an "end to politics"? Silly. While I would certainly agree that the far left and far right raise issues meriting debate, that doesn't mean that centrist dialogue and the proferred solutions and compromises are the devils work.

What is driving the centrist movement is the absurd pendulum swing that has occured since 1994 (and the Gingrichian Revolution). I think that is a fair landmark after which two things occurred---- First, a dangerous movement toward making the extremists in each party, agenda setters rather than "issue raisers" (well, if W can get away with being the Decider....)servicing the thinking portion of each party. And the cousin of this....
Second, the resulting death of decorum and willingness to listen in public discourse and, worse, in the halls of Congress. Ask any of the older guys who, regardless of party, could legitimately be called Statesmen, and they will tell you about the tone they live with these days.
What has that gotten us? Better "politics"? Nope, mutual distrust, chilled debate and a do nothing Congress where more than ever, standing ground comes before legislating and working for the nation. You can call it triangulation, the "end of politics" etc. I like to think of it as trying to get back to the time honored function of the Congress. Is it really "practicality" coming before ideology"? Nope. Just a willingness to make change and progress by compromise. That change is certainly at more of a snail's pace than legislating by extremist fiat, but I think I will take the tortoise here instead of the rabid hare any day.

At 7:17 PM, Blogger jeremy said...

quaker -- perhaps i did not exhaustively enough describe my position. it's not that i am in anyway in favor of extremist fiat deciding issues. rather, what i argue is that that compromise necessary for democratic progress is not produced by an existent "centrist bloc" but rather by antagonism itself. The so-called centrists do not want the power of fiat any less than anyone else. Rather they are less concerned with issues and more concerned with fiat qua fiat. What the centrists feel threatened by is the insane diversity and intensity of the various stances on issues held by non-"old guys". Such pluralism (a pluralist society needn't be a harmonious one) produces volatility that becomes hard to control in terms of electoral success. This what worries the centrists. The old guys want to stick around just a little bit longer. And so the tropes of civility are dragged out of from the lyrical closet, in order to avoid the ferocity of the electorate's desires. Compromise and ameliorative progress are not the profile of one hypothetical historical group, "the centrists," but rather the effect of politics which shuns the "center," a center which can only be the status quo, and therefore the point from which progress is made, and not progress' goal.

At 1:15 AM, Blogger The ACTUAL God said...

this blog's really starting to suck


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