Calvin Freiburger

What’s So Moderate About These “Centrists”?

Posted on April 2 2010 4:00 pm
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.
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This morning, Hot Air observes that the Daily Beast seems to have “a curious understanding of the word ‘centrist,’ as shown by John Avlon’s latest column, a look at America’s “top 25 centrist columnists and commentators”:

Some might call themselves libertarians, others radical centrists, moderates or independents—but the underlying ideas are the same. They have refused to surrender their conscience or common sense to walk in lockstep with one political party. Theirs is a rebellion from the pressures to conform in today’s hyperpartisan debates.


This list is intended to fill out the full spectrum of political debate, spanning the center-right and the center-left. It was developed with certain criteria in mind: the individual’s civility or sense of humor when engaging in political debates; their pragmatic approach to problem-solving; their principled independence from partisanship and willingness to criticize the extremes on both sides of the aisle; and finally, their prominence in the arena.

Those invested in the right/left, red state/blue state divide of American politics do their best to deny the existence of the center in American politics while simultaneously launching party purity purges. Individuals on the center-right are cast out and called “squishes” by conservatives who are turning their political faith into something resembling a cult. Likewise, on the left, centrists are increasingly attacked as “corporatists” because of their commitment to fiscal responsibility and belief that thriving private industry is the backbone of the American economy.

These free-thinking paragons of civility include Andrew Sullivan, Kathleen Parker, David Brooks, David Frum, Jon Stewart, Irshad Manji, Charles Johnson, Joe Scaroborough, Harold Ford Jr., Peggy Noonan, Tom Friedman, and Christopher Buckley.

It’s true that they all deviate from the norms of their home parties or ideologies (to the extent that they ever had one) to varying degrees, but that does not necessarily translate to any semblance of moderation, civility, or even conscience.  Was Tom Friedman’s love-letter to authoritarian China “middle of the road”?  Is Charles Johnson’s slander shtick even remotely civil or conscientious?  And Andrew Sullivan, well…is Andrew Sullivan.

It’s also disingenuous to suggest that mainline conservatives’ objections to those who want to dilute the Right’s conservatism indicate any kind of cult mentality.  For one thing, as I explained in January, political philosophies are rooted in firm core principles—it’s entirely legitimate to insist upon some basic standard, and it’s understandable that reasonable people will differ on precisely where the line should be drawn.

For another thing, let’s not kid ourselves and pretend ostracized “conservatives” are innocent victims of the thought police.  For instance, the right side of the blogosphere overwhelmingly dislikes David Frum, but I would argue that his dopey politics are hardly the primary source of their disdain; it’s his militant, often dishonest personal attacks against conservatives such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.  Indeed, what else can you say about a guy who takes a story about a prominent conservative being dishonestly smeared, and spins it into an indictment of the rest of the Right for supposedly not caring about whether or not the charges were true?

By contrast, as I’ve also pointed out before, there are plenty of non-doctrinaire figures on the Right—Tammy Bruce, Dick Morris, Allahpundit, Dennis Miller, and several of NewsReal’s own bloggers come to mind—who the “cult” never seems to call out for their “heresy.”

Lastly, since when is independent thought or intellectual honesty incompatible with firm adherence to a particular ideology?  Andrew Breitbart wasn’t credited as a centrist for taking on Birtherism earlier this year, and despite my objections to Peter Sprigg’s comments about homosexuality, I don’t think I’m going to be mistaken for a moderate anytime soon.

Real independence and critical thinking are wonderful things.  Showering grandstanders with praise for virtues they don’t have while using them to smear more mainline conservatives, on the other hand, is not.


Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College.  He also blogs at the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.

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