By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Webster defines a centrist as “a person with moderate political opinions and policies.” An editorial in The Washington Post last week claimed that none of the Democratic candidates were centrists since they were “running on an agenda to the left of Obama’s.” As a maverick in religion and a centrist in politics, I take issue with The Post’s characterization of centrists.
Obama began his presidency with support for traditional marriage and later supported same-sex marriage. That was a change in his standards of political legitimacy, but it didn’t change him from a centrist to a radical in his politics. “Centrist” is a normative term that denotes political values in the center of a dynamic political spectrum in which Obama was center-left.
Today a radical right Republican Party and leftist Democratic Party are at opposite ends of America’s political spectrum. Independent centrists are in the middle of that political spectrum, and their moderate standards of political legitimacy are derived from the altruistic and universal standards of Christian morality taught by Jesus and shared by those of other religions.
Who are the centrist candidates for president? The egregious immorality, demagoguery, and unpredictable impulsiveness of Donald Trump take him out of contention, as does Bernie Sanders’ proclamation that he is a socialist. But Joe Biden, Pete Buttiegig, Amy Klobuchar or Mike Bloomberg could prove themselves acceptable to centrist voters between now and November.
In America’s polarized partisan duopoly neither party has made room for centrists, who represent between 10% and 20% of the electorate. Neither the Republican nor Democratic Party can claim more than 45% of the electorate as party loyalists, so that independent centrists will be able to choose America’s next president.
Centrists may disagree on specific issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, but they support the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech, equal justice under law and balancing individual rights and identity politics with providing for the common good. For that reason, centrists oppose claims that religious freedom allows discrimination against homosexuals.
Tradition is important to centrists, but they aren’t committed to preserving the status quo against progressive change. Allowing women at The Citadel was a major change in its tradition that initially generated fierce opposition, but it was accepted as essential for the military college to remain in step with America’s changing values for women officers in its military forces.
Fiscal restraint is a political priority for centrists. While deficits are accepted in bad economic times, centrists oppose deficits that increase the national debt in good times. And while centrists support financial aid to students for higher education, they would oppose blanket forgiveness of student debt. It teaches young people the wrong lesson in basic economics.
In America’s polarized partisan politics, independent centrists occupy the political and religious middle ground. Their priorities reflect America’s changing standards of political legitimacy, and centrists remain committed to promoting the common good and providing equal justice under law. Fortunately for America. centrists will be able to elect its next president.
Centrists will make the difference this November in choosing between Donald Trump and the Democratic nominee for president, whoever that might be. An editorial in The Washington Post confidently asserted, No, Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden are not centrists. It quoted Pete Buttigieg saying that Bernie Sanders “makes it feel like you’re either for a revolution or you’ve got to be for the status quo, and there’s nothing in between.” To win in November, the Democratic nominee must move from the leftist positions on issues favored by the party faithful toward the political center. Donald Trump can win only if the Democratic nominee fails to move to the center and capture the support of independent centrist voters. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/no-pete-buttigieg-and-joe-biden-are-not-centrists/2020/02/07/a75c9afc-49d9-11ea-b4d9-29cc419287eb_story.html.
According to The Ranking Committee at The Washington Post, as of February 14, Bernie Sanders is ranked first, Mike Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg are tied for second, with Amy Klobuchar fourth, Elizabeth Warren fifth and Joe Biden sixth; but uncertainty prevails at this stage of the nomination process. See
Centrist Democrats--those elected in swing districts in the congressional races of 2018--have expressed their dismay at the prospect of Bernie Sanders being the Democrat nominee for president. See https://www.thestate.com/news/politics-government/national-politics/article240246021.html.
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