The Drifting Center


Posted by Bob Lord

I always marvel at how people point to the political center as if it's the center of wisdom. Often, they think they're making an incredibly astute observation when they point out that "most voters are centrists." Doh. Voters always will fall onto a bell shaped curve, with most clustered around the center. So, yes, it's always true that most voters are at or near the center of the political spectrum. But that doesn't mean the center represents good policy.

The real issue is where the center is, because the center isn't stationary. The center moves. So, the cener is not always where poliy ideally would be. And there are ominous signs that the center is continuing it's rightward move.

Right now, the entire spectrum, including the center, is way off to the right. Pundits will say that the polarization of the parties is because they've each moved to the extremes. Not true. The Republicans have moved way off to the right, but the Democrats have moved right as well. 

When you recognize that reality, the current discourse in the abortion debate is frightening. While progressives gleefully pounce on all the ridiculous statements from the "no exception for rape" crowd, I'm afraid we're losing sight of a really disconcerting development. The battle line in the debate has moved — rightward. It used to be whether Roe should be overturned. Now, it's about whether there should be very limited exceptions to an outright ban on abortions. In other words, the "centrist" position is to allow abortions in the case of rape or incest, or where the health of the mother is at stake. Roe v. Wade would be considered left of center. 

This development will help Democrats in the 2012 election, but if you believe a 15 year-old girl who makes a mistake should have a choice, it's a long-term problem. A big one. 


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    Bill, I think we who read political blogs have a difficult time judging the population at large. The folks like us on the left and our counterparts on the right actually are a tiny slice of the electorate. But that wasn’t my main point anyhow. Regardless of how voters are distributed around the center, whether it’s bell-shaped as I believe or bi-modal as you do, the center always is drifting one way or the other.

  2. Bob;
    I really have to disagree, especially with the statement, “Voters always will fall onto a bell shaped curve, with most clustered around the center.”. I think a more accurate description would be a bimodal or perhaps trimodal distribution. One lump off to the right, another off to the left, and perhaps a third in the center.

    I also think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking unaffiliated (independent) voters are in the center. I’d guess 40% are on the right, 30% are on the left, and 30% are truly centrists.

    There is also a problem with defining “left”, “center”, and “right” in the first place. When I look at the positions advocated I see Libertarians and Liberals being awfully close yet most pundits put the former on the right and the latter on the left.

    Bill Astle

  3. Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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