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Defining a moderate political philosophy will not end the war on centrists

In February, Sherry and Allan Rivlin, co-editors of CenteredPolitics.com, offered up a “Draft Moderate Manifesto” in a Huffington Post essay. Theirs was not the first such attempt to do so (see here, here, here, here, and here), but it certainly was among the first to actively attempt to define the center and a centrist political philosophy.

The Rivlins are clearly concerned by pundits and bloggers who consider political moderates to be “spineless,” or “opportunists.” They probably take offense to people who label all centrists as fence-sitters, or who view post-partisanship through the lenses of skepticism and sarcasm. They probably aren’t thrilled about the organized attack (see here, here, here, here, here, and here) on the center that has taken place for several years now, either. And they’re probably worried about the perceived death of centrism, moderation, and reasonable discourse in our politics today.

Many believe “the center cannot hold,” something Mark Whittington said when the Democratic Leadership Council dissolved last February. This is because moderates lack a coherent, unified political ideology, suggests George Lakoff, author of The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain. David Brooks, a columnist with the New York Times, concurs. He laments that there is no well-defined agenda or philosophy of the center.

Does it matter though? Even if a political philosophy of moderation did exist, many on the right and left would reject working with a well-organized group of centrists, says the Rivlins, “as a watering down” of their own philosophies.

American politics has been described as a pendulum for more than 100 years, swinging across the full spectrum of political ideology from the left to the right, and back again. Moderates temper and mollify politicians and the public during these wide sweeping arcs of political change creating some level of policy continuity during power shifts possibly even preventing major convulsions.

But, as the Rivlins point out, “there can be no peace without mutual respect and a working through of political philosophies.” This means that liberals and conservatives cannot mollify the effects of the pendulums swings without a) a respect for moderates and centrists, combined with a recognition that no one group has a monopoly on good ideas, and b) an understanding of their positions. Without this, what results is polarization, gridlock, and a war on moderates.

A number of organizations, blogs, and individuals have attempted to address these issues, including the Republican Rippon Society, the more Democratic Progressive Policy Institute (the DLC’s successor organization), Third Way, No Labels, The Moderate Voice, The Pragmatic Center, John Avalon, the Rivlins, the U.S. Centrist Party, and the Unity Party of America, to name a few. But, the problem persists.

Perhaps moderates do need to more cohesive—at least, identifiable—philosophy in order to make a larger impact on American politics. However, what the nation is seeing right now, is an organized assault on the center; and doing something as abstract as defining an ideology is not going to change this. If moderates are to remain a force for temperence, then American centrists must rise up and oppose the far-Left and the far-Right in their attacks on the middle.

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