Reclaiming the word ‘centrist’ from the extremists

One of the most laughable claims made recently is that made by billionaire vanity presidential candidate Howard Schultz that he occupies the center of American politics. Mehdi Hasan writes that it is time to reclaim the label ‘centrist’ and assign it to the people to whom it rightly belongs, those who represent the views of the broad swathe of ordinary people. That means people like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and decidedly not to the people that the media describes as such: Michael Bloomberg, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden, and Howard Schultz.

“It’s easy to call what AOC is doing as far-lefty, but nothing could be farther from the truth,” Nick Hanauer, the venture capitalist and progressive activist, told MSNBC in January. “When you advocate for economic policies that benefit the broad majority of citizens, that’s true centrism. What Howard Schultz represents, the centrism that he represents, is really just trickle-down economics.”

“He is not the centrist,” continued Hanauer. “AOC is the centrist.”

Hanauer is right. And Bernie Sanders is centrist too — smeared as an “ideologue” (The Economist) and “dangerously far left” (Chicago Tribune). So too is Elizabeth Warren — dismissed as a “radical extremist” (Las Vegas Review-Journal) and a “class warrior” (Fox News).

The inconvenient truth that our lazy media elites do so much to ignore is that Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, and Warren are much closer in their views to the vast majority of ordinary Americans than the Bloombergs or the Bidens. They are the true centrists, the real moderates; they represent the actual political middle.

Hasan goes on to point out that polls show that ideas like the Green New Deal, plans for soaking the rich through higher taxes, single-payer universal health care system, Medicare for All, debt-free and tuition-free college, gun control, abortion, legalized marijuana, and reducing mass incarceration all have majority support (sometimes by large margins) and yet are represented in the media as ‘fringe’ or extreme’ positions.

Why? Hasan quotes Stanford political scientist David Broockman.

“When we say moderate what we really mean is what corporations want. Within both parties there is this tension between what the politicians who get more corporate money and tend to be part of the establishment want — that’s what we tend to call moderate — versus what the Tea Party and more liberal members want”

Hasan concludes thusly:

You want to find the moderate middle? Then ignore the right-wing hacks, the conventional wisdom-mongers, and the donor class. Go check out the policy platforms of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.

That’s exactly right.

Here’s Ruben Bolling weighing in.

Tom the Dancing Bug 1427 coffee beans – howard schultz


  1. says

    Yup. Here in much of Urope the “centrists” would be considered “far left” in USA. Hardly anyone on either side of the spectrum disputes universal healthcare or free/cheap education. Even those on the right wo propose for-profit schools and healthcare meet resistance among their own ranks. These are not leftist ideas, these are mainstream in any modern society.

    Unfortunately USA are not modern, but backwards, and as they descend deeper and deeper into the abyss, tehy are dragging the rest of the world with it. The overtone windows starts to move rightwards even here, by means of austerity measures.

  2. lochaber says

    Scalzi said it better, but in the past decade or so, being “far left” basically amounts to not being racist, not being misogynist, and in favor of LGBTQ rights.

  3. Holms says

    The inconvenient truth that our lazy media elites do so much to ignore is that Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, and Warren are much closer in their views to the vast majority of ordinary Americans than the Bloombergs or the Bidens. They are the true centrists, the real moderates; they represent the actual political middle.

    Moderates want to keep things running smoothly for the already wealthy, and the word moderate means ‘wanting little to no change.’ Bernie, AOC, Warren et al are centrists but not moderates. The word for ‘wanting lots of change’ is radical.

    ==> They are radical centrists.

  4. file thirteen says

    I remember explaining how the US Democrats, obstensibly left-wing, were still further right-wing than our most right-wing major party (National, here in NZ). Still true for the Democrats as a whole imo, the mentioned outliers notwithstanding

  5. John Morales says

    So, everyone here from the OP down seems to imagine the 1-D political spectrum (left ↔ centre ↔ right) is an absolute and objective world-wide standard measure, and that therefore in an USA context, nobody is on the left, so that it is silly to speak of leftists in such a context, because those are really centrists under that supposition.

    I don’t think of it that way.

    Take a group of people; they will show a distribution in that (O so limited!) spectrum.
    Someone(s) will be the most left of that group, and someone(s) will be the most right of that group.

    Those in between, in the context of that group, will perforce be centrists.

  6. lanir says

    @John #7: One of us seems to have missed the point because I got a very different read of the discussion. As I understand it the post and article are debating the labels and put forth the idea that the population should be the measure of what a centrist is, not just the politicians. Sure, the labels are correct if we only look at politicians and find the middle ground based on the extreme ends of what is proposed politically. But the politician-only spectrum is far, far to the right of the actual population on a whole lot of issues. The article proposes that the spectrum be based on the electorate and not only politicians.

    Don’t you think it’s absurd to say the majority of the country supports far left ideas? Why on earth would those ideas be considered far left if the majority of the population is behind them?

  7. John Morales says

    Holms, lanir: again, leftist, centrist, rightist refer to positions within a political space (a one-dimensional one in this case), not to whether they accord with the desires of the majority.

    (Holms: centrist is not a synonym for populist)

    Holms: in particular, the socialisation of medical care is a leftist position and its privatisation a rightist one; the centrist position would be a mixed system.

    (Or to invoke another axis, the control of gun ownership is an authoritarian position, whereas the lack of such control is a libertarian one; do I need to spell out what a centrist position would be? 🙂 )

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