This morning on Morning Joe the panel yearned for more centrism like government is supposed to do things, getting together and "getting things done". I've heard this a lot from pundits lately, and many of Obama's critics on the Right have been laughed at when they call Obama a progressive -- why, he's just a centrist, after all. What does it mean to be a centrist, a moderate? The way most in the political class talk about centrism, the main characteristic is pragmatism.
Statists claim to be pragmatists when they're charged with central planning and social engineering. The idea is that in modern politics, in this complex world, an ideology is too limiting to deal with all the diverse problems facing the country, and one ideology can't possibly address all the challenges facing us. Therefore, the centrist pragmatically considers each situation and uses comoon sense to find the best solution for the greatest number. Sometimes indivdual rights are violated for the greater good, because pragmatism shouldn't be limited by principles carved in stone. The centrist believes that if there are two opposing views, the answer usually lies somewhere in the middle, therefore, finding compromise is the only way to effectively govern.
This centrist view gained popularity at the beginning of the 20th century when government became more active in guiding America's economy and role in international affairs. Pragmatically, we entered two world wars and created the Federal Reserve as a pragmatic solution to recessions, depressions and deflation/inflation. The 16th Amendment came about as a means to fund our new pragmatic, interventionist statist system. Government intervened in the economy and became entangled in foreign affairs before the 20th century, but nothing to the extent of the interventions and entanglements since the 20th century. I don't have the time here to go into all the arguments in favor of interventions, such as freeing the slave, giving women the right to vote and the Civil Rights Act -- these were mostly amendments and adjustments to flaws in the Constitution and laws which didn't go far enough in the beginning to ensure every individual enjoys our basic rights equally.
What I want to consider is the centrist/moderate mindset of the last few decades. Statism became acceptable after the New Deal and surely so after LBJ's Great Society. Kids who grew up in the 80s, 90s and now in the 21st century have been taught that government management of the economy is natural and necessary, and our role as World Police has helped further the cause of Democracy against tyrants of all stripes (although it's also taught we've been imperialist bad guys, too). The State has become powerful in ways the Founders feared in the beginning, but now State power is normal. Recently, though, Americans have started to question the role of government in our lives, the economy and abroad, and many people have gone back to the Constitution for guidance.
We've been told by statists on the Right and Left that the Constitution had to evolve to deal with problems that the Founders couldn't have foreseen. These statists acknowledge that America should not drift into bonafide Socialism or Communism, but we also shouldn't expect a strict adherence to the Constitution -- these two extremes should be avoided in favor of a pragmatic approach which re-interprets general welfare and interstate commerce in particular. The State, through an interventionist government, has taken the responsibility of general welfare to new heights to ensure justice, equality and a safety net for everyone -- also, the State has widened the scope of the interstate commerce clause to regulate business and prevent the jungle of the market from creating chaos and unfair advantages for the rich and powerful. The State seeks civility, order, social justice and stability. Centrist efforts aim to avoid the extremes of Socialism on one hand and a chaotic free market on the other hand. Unions, the Fed, an interventionist government, media, and government/corporate partnerships all go toward maintaining and supporting a powerful State machine that guides the general direction of our economy and our role in international affairs. How has this worked so far?
Well, right now, the State is in serious trouble. Government spending, after building steadily through the years, has skyrocketed in recent years and our welfare/warfare/regulatory State is faced with debt and unfunded liabilities which will crush us if nothing changes. We're at the tipping point. After a series of bubbles and crashes and a Fed monetary policy that has kept us somewhat afloat through borrowed and printed money, American enterprise at home has come to a halt, almost, and real unemployment is close to 20%. We're bogged down in Mideast wars, and our military/industrial complex is basically unaudited, spending billions each year that can't be accounted for. Foreclosures are at record highs, and there's no recovery in sight. These are just a few of our problems. The next bubble to burst is likely the massive amount of student loans which jobless young people no longer want to, or can't, pay back. Banks and auto companies have been bailed out, and now Europe's financial crisis threatens to hit banks and our economy with another severe blow.
A pragmatist might think change of direction is in order. Those who blame the current standoff between Democrats and Republicans over the role of government for our crisis should realize that all these problems didn't start with Bush in 2000 -- these problems have been building for decades, and our "centrist", statist government created most of the problems. Now that some Americans are taking a stand and considering the need to limit government power, cut spending and create a free market, the political class is up in arms screaming "Extremism"! Pundits are pushing for a quick return to the staus quo, the same centrist, statist compromises that got us here. A real pragmatist would search for real solutions. The center now is simply a weak admission that we can't change the system, but systemic changes are surely needed in this mess. History shows us that government manipulations only prolong economic downturns, and if we continue down the centrist, statist path, we'll experience anothe Great Depression lasting another decade or so. Japan did just what our political class is recommending we do and Japan still hasn't recovered -- that was two decades ago.
It appears to me that pragmatism calls for limits on government power and spending and the creation of a free market that can compete in the global market, along with changes to education, the end of the Fed and Fannie and Freddie, evacuation of the Mideast, closure of military bases and a few other pragmatic changes. Tomorrow I will write about the Republican establsihment's push for status quo centrism.