Ezra Klein raises an excellent point – there is no “centrist” in US politics, anymore, and perhaps writers and pundits should stop self-aggrandizing themselves with such labels.
Still, where did “centrism” go? And what was it?
On the one hand, I can’t help but view “centrist” as the set of people that have only weakly-held positions on any particular policy – and are thus attractive counter-parties for negotiation (because they can be swayed), relative to the alternative – those with strongly-held positions. After all, if you hold a viewpoint “strongly” then you inherently do so because you’ve weighed the “left” and “right” (ie pro and con) arguments that surround it, and made a decision which arguments are most valid – valid to you, given all your other beliefs about the world we live in).
It seems that “centrist policies” or “centrist legislation” are not actually a coherent position, but rather the outcome of compromise from people at two different positions. Neither is getting everything they want, but each feels that the benefits of what they got outweigh the costs of what the other side got.
That said, there is a thing that we also call “centrist” – the kind of person that has already performed this negotiation, whether with themselves or others, and now endorses the compromise policy from a purely pragmatic standpoint. This is probably what we really mean when we talk about “centrists”.
But EK’s point is valid – we seem to be lacking in these position-already-formed pragmatists. Why?
Probably because no one knows how to deal with the new Republicans. It’s as if the new Conservative has also taken as a primary policy that compromise is evil, in principle. They all aspire to be the obstinate, righteous John Galt / Moses arch type.