Thursday, July 15, 2004

I WANT to be a centrist, but...

I want to be a centrist: reasonable, willing to see both sides, comfortable with progress through compromise. Arguably the only progress that’s ever made in our political system is the progress that happens when both Republicans and Democrats work together, put aside their differences and look at what they both need. This view asserts that progress and change only happen in that middle ground when the two parties stop trying to defeat each other and prioritize actually getting something done.

I enjoy listening to Air America Radio (especially their “Morning Sedition” program), but sometimes I consider how Air America panders to the left while radio shows like Rush Limbaugh’s pander to the right. What’s the point? They both rail against each other, absolutely certain that the other side is stupid and destructive. What does this achieve? I was so excited when Air America first aired because they echo my beliefs. Listening to Air America Radio made me feel better, like there’s hope for defeating the right wing in the next election and making the country safe for peace and recycling.

But what does ideological ranting really achieve? Wouldn’t it be better to promote radio shows that give both sides equal time and look for the common ground? Wouldn’t it be more healing to get right-wingers and left-wingers to see each other as human beings who are afraid of basically the same things? If we could all see that we bleed the same color and are shaped by the same forces, we’d be better able to understand each other and not react with knee-jerk fear to extremist statements. A centrist approach like this would lead to less hot air and more forward movement.

Yesterday I was willing to step right, closer to the center, and support John Kerry even though he’s not nearly as far left as I’d like him to be (my favorite candidate is Dennis Kucinich). I received many responses to yesterday’s posting, mostly from people who agreed with me in seeing Kerry as the best option for our country. The more people I heard from, the more I saw that my argument was sound and my conclusion inevitable. So why did all those reassurances make me feel worse and worse?

The last comment I got last night (like Hope at the bottom of Pandora’s box), was from the friend who first told me about Kucinich’s campaign, my friend Lon. Lon alone offered the opinion that Kerry isn’t far enough to the left and if we accept Kerry then we simply send the message that we’re willing to compromise everything and end up with nothing really changing at all. Lon’s comment ends with the words, “Vote Nader!”

I know, I know, I know…but Lon’s comment thrilled me and felt like an affirmation of my own far-left tendencies. Maybe a vote for Nader IS a vote for good against evil, both the evil of the right wing and the evil of centrist selling-out-on-everything. Maybe we should send a message that says, “No, Kerry being Not-Bush isn’t good enough. We demand a president that truly reflects what we want and what we want is a correction of the country’s growing economic disparities and no more stupid wars and an administration that tells us the truth and doesn’t treat us like idiots.” Maybe I don't have to compromise my idealist tendencies by supporting Kerry-Edwards. Maybe voting for Ralph Nader would strategically show the country that you cannot take for granted that the far left will fall in line with the middle-left when the middle-left fails to provide the possibility of real change.

But what would that message achieve? Voting for Nader could achieve nothing more than four more years of George W. Bush and the wrath of the centrist liberals who would call for Nader’s head on a platter and refuse to listen to the far left again in 2008. Four more Bush administration years would widen the gap between the rich and the working class and probably get the United States voted off the planet.

Or voting for Nader could result in four more years of George W. Bush and a 2008 Democratic party that’s so desperate to take the White House that they finally listen to the constituencies they’ve been ignoring: youth, Blacks, single women, first- second- third- and fourth-generation immigrants, people living below the poverty line, etc. If you add up all the numbers, WE’RE the majority, not white guys for whom the American Dream actually works.

Oh, I want to be a centrist, I really do. I want to be mature and reasonable and see that compromise is the only force that ever truly moves forward. But to be a centrist, I have to figure out what to do with my leftist passion and ideals. Is there such a thing as a passionate centrist? I don’t do tepid.

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