There’s no such thing as a centrist

Hamilton Nolan, writing for Splinter, takes the bold position that centrists don’t exist.

Politics is not a bathtub that seeks a perfect mix of hot and cold. Politics is using power to achieve certain ends. The ends that people want to achieve are, consciously or subconsciously, aligned with broad philosophical beliefs.

I’m not sure I’d agree with the notion that centrists don’t exist. They do and are quite proud of what they see as the most rational, pragmatic approach to politics. But Nolan is right that politics, for the vast majority of people, is about ideals and deeply held values.

Compromise is often necessary, particularly in parliamentary democracies, but if you’re not starting from the point of an actual ideal (or, dare I say, an ideology) then what is the point? If you’re beginning your negotiations from the compromise position you might as well not stand for anything. You might as well, in fact, stand for the position of your political enemy, because when you have to compromise on your already compromised position, you’ll inevitably be giving them more of what they want than you otherwise would have.

The argument Nolan lays out for why the Democrats in the United States should embrace the left and stop being afraid to actually stand for something applies rather well to Canada’s New Democrats.

The NDP establishment seems so afraid that voters will reject the ideals the party is supposed to represent that they’re continually moving toward the centre. Meanwhile, the Liberals won the last federal election by running to the left of the supposedly left-wing NDP.

The centre is not a position to campaign from. In parliamentary politics, it is often the position one ends up governing from, but campaigning from the centre doesn’t give you broad appeal. Often, it makes it look as though you stand for nothing.

Updated on Sept. 28, 2018 to correct some minor typos.