Centrism

CENTRISM….Yes, centrism can be a tic. Yes, it’s often favored by DC pundits who automatically assume that bipartisanship is an inherent good regardless of its outcome. Yes, it can sometimes be a substitute for real thought.

That said, I hope the liberal blogosphere doesn’t get into the habit of automatically trashing centrist positions simply out of pique against some of centrism’s more annoying practitioners. After all, trying to govern solely via populist intuition won’t work any better than relying on a bunch of blue ribbon commissions.

On this score, it’s worth keeping in mind that the biggest problem with the Bush administration was never its doctrinaire conservatism, which wasn’t all that doctrinaire in the first place, but its insistence that it could govern by gut instinct without recourse to serious policy analysis. John DiIulio figured this out after only a few months in the White House, and later told Ron Suskind that “the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking.”

Gut instinct won’t get the job done for liberals, either. Your mileage will vary depending on the issue, but I’d argue, for example, that good analysis supports a fairly extreme view on Social Security (just leave it alone for now) but a centrist position on trade. The populist impulse on trade points us in the right direction, but a Lou Dobbsian solution (stop making trade deals, shut down the border) is nuts. Trade really does improve the economy after all, and the right answer for its ill effects on the working class is going to be found by agreeing on the populist goal and then letting the technocrats figure out smart policies to get us there. That’s technocratic populism (an apparent oxymoron that confused a bunch of you when I first used it a couple of weeks ago).

The problem is not that smart policies aren’t out there, the problem is that we’ve never built up the political will to insist that they be implemented. So let’s work on that. And let’s judge those policies on their merits. If a lefty solution works, that’s great. But sometimes it doesn’t, and if a wonky centrist solution works better, then that’s what we should rally around. Whatever else we do, let’s be sure to keep our eyes firmly planted in reality. The era of gut instinct is, hopefully, drawing mercifully to a close.