A few months ago, Mike defined the Compulsive Centrist Disorder and I have argued something similar a number of times in the past, e.g., here and here. In short – there is no such thing as a political middle. There is no line between “Left” and “Right” that you can put your own dot on. Most issues are quite binary – there is a “for” position and an “against” position, with each perhaps having additional modifiers. On each issue, one makes a decision. If on most issues you take a conservative option, you are predominantly conservative, and likewise for liberal option. Most people hold some of both. Rare are the people who are 100% one or the other.
The effective electoral strategy is to force the issues on which most people are taking your position and to prevent the opposition to force the issues that favour them. Nobody is wishy-washy middle (not even Joe Klein) – either you are liberal or conservative on any given issue. If Dems want to win, they need to remind people of their liberal stands.
There is an interesting article and discussion about this topic over on Rockridge Institute’s site called Biconceptualism that may be of interest to you (but read Mike’s and my definitions first).

6 responses to “Biconceptualism

  1. Scott Belyea

    Most issues are quite binary …

    Ah … you mean like, “When it comes to the war on terror, you’re either for us or against us”?
    I think the position you espouse makes little sense, and for exactly the same reasons. Among other things, it can easily lead you to believe that you know my position once I tell you that I don’t agree with yours.
    Not very much in the Real World is that simple …

  2. Have you perused the four linked articles/discussions yet? It appears I was not very clear about it, but the articles should make it clear what I meant.

  3. I read the linked articles, and they make clear what you mean, but they don’t make clear that you are correct.
    I will grant that some issues are yes-or-no. Not all. If conservatives want a 15% income tax on the highest tax bracket, and liberals want a 35% income tax on the highest tax bracket, then what is someone who prefers a 25% income tax? Mike’s article is particularly noteworthy in this respect – he does not deny that the moderate position exists on some issues; he only says that the moderate position is not automatically the best option simply by virtue of being the moderate position. You and he are saying very different things.
    The “Biconceptualism” article fails via one of its very own examples! “It is meaningless to suggest that a person have an abortion in moderation,” writes joe at rockridge, which is true, but not relevant – one either has an abortion or one does not, obviously, but it is not meaningless to have a moderate abortion policy. If a conservative believes “abortion only when the life of the mother is in danger” and the liberal believes “abortion whenever the woman chooses,” what is the person who is in favor of an “abortion when the woman chooses, only if it’s before 24 weeks” policy?

  4. I think the point is that centrists very often have positions that are philosophically indefensible but mascarade as sensible by virtue of not being extreme. There’s a fallacy that being in the middle makes you right, when really, the spread of human opinion is perhaps correlated, but certainly does not completely reflect, the rational truth to a situation – assuming that there is one, and that with the right amount of evidence and argument it could be shown.
    “Liberal” and “Conservative” were not, one day 200 years ago, each randomly assigned a bunch of positions off of a list. The lables exist because they reflect consistent philosophy about public life in general. And while it’s not to say that a thoughtful person is going to agree with every position of their chosen party, I think if you find yourself in the middle, you’re probably not trying very hard. Even take (at the risk of starting a debate I have no interest in) the abortion example above. Either you start with the assumption that humans have souls or you don’t. Once you’ve done that, the rest of the argument follows pretty trivially – the person in the moderate position cannot possibly defend it.

  5. whatsthepoint

    There are two kinds of people in the world:
    Those who believe it’s possible to divide the world into two kinds of people.
    Those who believe it’s not possible to divide the world into two kinds of people.
    And those who believe it’s not that simple.

  6. How ironically simple. Don’t see how it makes me wrong. Please, expand!