Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

When people reject the poles for the center, are they rejecting policies or just the perception of the extreme?

Asked by wundayatta (58326 points ) March 16th, 2012

Polls are showing that the Democrats and Republicans are losing support and people are flocking to the middle. Despite that, we are electing a more and more polarized set of elected officials.

When people express a preference for the middle, what do you think they are saying? Please speak from your own perspective if you are a middle-lover.

I suspect that people prefer the middle because it is the middle. It is not extreme. It is a place where there are more people. My guess is that people don’t know the policies advocated by the poles and if they did, they would be more likely to support Democratic policies.

Today, I read in my local paper that my Republican governor is losing support. Why? Well, the paper said it’s because he doesn’t support higher education.

Um. Duh! What do you expect? He’s a Republican. Of course he doesn’t want to spend money for higher education—or anything else except maybe police or tax subsidies for business. If you don’t know that, you haven’t been paying attention.

Which is what I accuse middle-lovers of: not paying attention. If you paid attention, you’d know very clearly where you stand.

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24 Answers

jonsblond's avatar

When people express a preference for the middle, what do you think they are saying?

I’m one of these people. I’m not going to blindly follow one side or the other (which I think many people do). To me, that is not paying attention. I choose the person who I feel is right for the job (after doing some research).

JLeslie's avatar

Previously I had thought of the middle as being socially liberal, and fiscally conservative, but I now think that is too simplistic. I think the middle describes people who look at each issue individually, not based on party stance. Maybe the middle is independents, and people who identify with a party, but at the same time disagree with various opinions on the issues within the party.

Blackberry's avatar

I see the problem as defining what the middle is

I see both sides of the issue, and it’s tough to make a decision. You can reject the policies and the perception, or one of each. For example, you may have someone not wanting to associate with republicans or anyone on the right, but still seem to have very republican views or vice versa.

Then there are people that seem very logical and play the middle, but also seem apathetic like they’re “above” the rhetoric from both sides. But even though something may seem like rhetoric, it simply may be true. Just because someone on the news says it doesn’t mean it’s always rhetoric.

tom_g's avatar

From my perspective, the distance between “both sides” is fairly narrow, but I am not discounting that there is a difference.

I am highly skeptical of anything framed in a “both sides” model, but I know that many people are attracted to solving problems by having 2 choices to choose from. I know of very few problems that can be boiled down into having only 2 “sides” – current political climate included.

I have known people who develop their positions on an issue by adopting the “2 sides” model, and attempting to work out some compromise or middle position because they value fairness. I have a real problem with this whole approach, because often “both sides” are wrong. And just as often, one of the “extremes” is correct – and holds the most reasonable and fair position.

CaptainHarley's avatar

“My guess is that people don’t know the policies advocated by the poles and if they did, they would be more likely to support Democratic policies”

More of the ole “something for nothing” approach, eh? Tisk! : )

Aethelflaed's avatar

It can be for both reasons. David Brooks seems to be a moderate because he thinks being a moderate is the best, regardless of his opinions on actual policies, regardless of how much the middle moves to one side. He is an ideologue not for any specific issue, but rather for moderacy itself. But certainly not everyone is that way. Just those who boast that their moderacy is a good quality in and of itself.

Qingu's avatar

This is maybe my biggest pet peeve. People who reflexively fence-sit or take the middle position in debates demonstrate nothing except their ignorance and need to feel self-important.

“Democrats say that there should be universal health care coverage. Republicans say that the private market should take care of it. For no reason whatsoever, I think both positions are too extreme, so let’s just take the average—that will work out the best!

“Atheists say the Biblical god is a fictional character. Evangelicals say he really exists. I think they’re both just as bad as each other! I’m on the fence about whether the Biblical god exists!

“Northerners say slavery should be illegal, southerners say it should stay legal. I think they’re both wrong! Surely a compromise can be reached that pleases no one but panders to my desire to remain “above the fray.”

“Galileo says the earth revolves around the sun, but the Church says the earth does not move. I think everyone involved in this argument is wrong! I won’t explain why, and I certainly won’t evaluate either position on the merits, I just want to pretend like I am reasonable, because reasonable people don’t take strong positions and defend them.

In 2008 I was campaigning for Obama near election day and I met this independent woman who told me, proudly, that she didn’t know who she was voting for and she wouldn’t make up her mind until she was in the voting booth. As if there was something admirable about her lack of knowledge, lack of interest, and lack of decisiveness.

For reference: XKCD.

Qingu's avatar

Here’s another way I think of it.

Take any two random ideas or positions. Any two “sides” to any debate or argument.

What is the likelihood that both positions are equally bad?

Jaxk's avatar

Independent doesn’t necessarily mean middle. Many people are simply severing thier ties to a party that they think is not representing them. That doesn’t mean they think they are wrong about everything nor that they don’t have very strong positions. I’ve held very strong political positions all my life but most of my life I wasn’t register as either political party. In fact I’ve never seen a politician that I agreed with on everything.

Being independent merely means you don’t want to be counted on to vote consistently for any particular party platform. There’s way too many issues they you may disagree with.

Qingu's avatar

@Jaxk, at least you put thought into what your positions are, what politicians actually support, and whether or not they line up with what you want. I criticize you a lot for your actual positions, but I prefer people like you to people who just reflexively stake out the “independent” label because they like the attention or dislike the optics of voting for a party.

JLeslie's avatar

@Qingu I never equated being in the middle as being a fence sitter. So, to you is term middle very different than the term moderate?

Qingu's avatar

I think the terms middle, moderate, independent, agnostic, etc probably each carry their own specialized valences but ultimately tend to stem from the same neurosis.

I think the important distinction is between the idea of compromise and the idea of moderation. When you compromise, as is necessary in any democratic political system, you realize that the compromised position is not as good as your ideal position, it’s something you were forced to do out of pragmatic necessity. When you’re a moderate, on the other hand, you actually view a compromise position as the ideal position.

But there is rarely any rational reason to do so. Which is why I can’t stand so-called “moderates.” It’s not about having reasons for a given position, it’s simply about the optics, about the need to seem “not extreme.” I like this piece about Olympia Snowe, the Maine Republican “moderate” who says she is retiring because she just can’t stand the partisanship:

When George W. Bush proposed a huge, regressive tax cut in 2001, Snowe, sitting at the heart of a decisive block of centrists, used her leverage to support the passage of a modestly smaller and less regressive version. When Barack Obama proposed a large fiscal stimulus in 2009, Snowe (citing fears of deficits that she had helped create) decided to shave a nice round $100 billion off his figure and call it a day. If a Gingrich administration proposed spending a trillion dollars to erect a 100— foot-tall solid-gold Winston Churchill statue on Mars, Snowe would no doubt decide, after careful deliberation, that the wise course was to trim the height down to 90 feet and perhaps use a cheaper bronze alloy in the base.

jonsblond's avatar

@Qingu You are assuming that most independents are ignorant and don’t do their research. You really shouldn’t assume. How can you possibly know if a person isn’t doing their research about all candidates and just label themselves independent because they like the attention. I admire a person who does their research on all the candidates and not just voting for a person because of their label. Please tell me how researching and weighing all options is ignorance.

Qingu's avatar

Because researching, weighting your options, and prioritizing your positions shouldn’t entail a lack of ability to choose one option over another.

jonsblond's avatar

Hmm, by researching and making a decision based on an individual and not a label entails a lack of ability to choose? I’m choosing the individual, not the label.

Qingu's avatar

I do too. the thing is, the individuals I choose tend to belong to one political party more than the other political party. Since that political party tends to institutionally advocate for positions I care about, or at least a good portion of those positions, and thus attracts individuals who do likewise—while the opposing party does the inverse.

wundayatta's avatar

There’s a difference between placing oneself on the issues and then looking around and seeing who is near you, versus looking at all the people and your understanding of their stands on issues and then placing yourself near one of them.

It is my sense that moderates tend to do the latter. They look around and see where everyone is, and then try to place themselves in the middlest position of all. Partisans don’t give a shit about what others think. They decide what is right, and place themselves there, and try to get politicians to come closer to them.

If you see a person in the middle, it’s kind of hard to know if they got there by the first or second method, but from the rhetoric I see on fluther, it seems to me that a lot of moderates do what @Qingu hates: they take moderate positions as a matter of being moderate; not because of what they actually believe.

It seems like being moderate for moderation’s sake is an unprincipled approach. But perhaps it is a meta-principled approach. Maybe they are right that issues don’t really matter. Only taking some action matters.

It seems like American politics has become about keeping the other side from making thing worse lately. We vote defensively to keep the idiots from taking over and making a bigger mess. Maybe this is all for the best. But I doubt it.

An antidote to middlism would be taking the poles to a further extreme. In fact, that’s about what you have to do if you want to move the middle. If I go further left, than people to the left of center might look more like they are in the center.

I feel like the right has been very successful in this way. By getting more and more extreme, led by the likes of Rush et al, they have pulled the center to the right. I don’t know how long this can go on for before the rubber band that holds us all together snaps.

jerv's avatar

I have been anti-idiot my whole life, before I even knew about politics. My political views were shaped accordingly.

However, bring accused of being more sheep-like than “ditto-heads”, more ignorant than a coma patient, and otherwise utterly inferior because I am neither a Communist nor a Good-fearing Uber-Capitalist is offensive. And given how many millions of others like me live in thus country, I see it as only a matter of time before both sides lose as the middle gets fed up and starts bitch-slapping extremists.

So look me right in the eye and tell me what is wrong with having an informed opinion that leads you one direction on certain issues, the opposite direction on others, and sometimes just looking at both sides and saying, “You’re both fucking stupid!”.

jerv's avatar

@Qingu You’re view is flawed, and let me show you how. Imagine your house is on fire. Do you:
1) Pour gas on it
2) Try to put it out with your neighbors garden hose

The Right would choose 1, the Left would choose 2, and your viewpoint makes any option not listed above, like calling the fire department, a non-option while simultaneously insulting and degrading anybody who even considers alternative choices.

Qingu's avatar

I stand by my statements. Your analogy is completely flawed, because you present a situation in which the options available are not mutually exclusive.

Let’s stick with a real-world analogy. Imagine the economy is recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression. Do you:
1. Slash spending and cut regulations
2. Maintain spending and regulations and make a few tepid tax cuts and other small-scale stimulus.

The Right would choose 1, the Left would choose 2. If I had a magic emperor scepter I would choose 3, a full-scale stimulus, aid to states, and NGDP targeting. But I don’t have this option because that is not how democracy works.

Let’s take another example. Let’s say that Iran is on the cusp of developing nuclear weapons and Israel is threatening to pre-emptive strike. Do you
1. Immediately bomb Iran
2. Try to talk Israel down and buy time for sanctions but leave open the possibility of bombing Iran

See I’d like option 3: do nothing and tell Israel to fuck itself. Nevertheless, since I’m not a moron, I realize that option 2 is significantly better than option 1.

The way I see it, calling yourself “independent” because you think both sides are bad serves no purpose except to inflate your ego. One position is almost always better than another. One party is clearly, on the balance, closer to your beliefs than the other. If the only reason you don’t call yourself a “Democrat” is because you want to highlight the fact that you are not a sheeple who follows lockstep with the party line, congratulations! I would never have assumed that about you anyway.

jonsblond's avatar

I can respect your opinion @Qingu and ask why you feel the way you do without saying your opinion is ignorant. It would be a bit arrogant of me to call out your beliefs and life choices as ignorant, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t that show a bit of self-importance on my part. Something that is a huge pet peeve of yours?

jerv's avatar

@Qingu By presenting an option 3, even as wishful thinking, you fall into the same group I do. You are correct in that I often see the Dems a the lesser of two evils, but only because the Republicans have made such an effort to distance themselves so far from the Center that they would rather watch the world burn than make even a half-hearted effort to halt our decline. And it’s a pity since the Democrats are kind of batshit crazy as well.

What ready irks me though is that you seem to deny that you and I actually agree on some things, and it’s that sort of pervasive drive for divisiveness that will screw us all. And as for your comment about how democracy works, it works however voters say it does. Unfortunately, not enough are willing to give both sides the finger and take this country back… yet.

Qingu's avatar

@jerv, I do realize that we agree on most things. I just think it’s more important to support the “lesser of two evils” against a potential all-out disaster for this country and the world than to engage in wishful thinking about creating a third party.

Largely because such a third party could never exist! I mean, we’re both very left wing, I don’t think either of us believes in god, if I’m not mistaken you’d prefer socialized health care and cutting our military by some huge amount. Those things are not popular with the American public. Our third party would never achieve anything.

jerv's avatar

@Qingu If such a third party could never exist, then explain how other nations (and during our earlier history, even this nation) have managed to avoid the two-party trap. Hell, if it weren’t for wishful thinking that eventually turned into action, we would still be a British colony!

As for things not popular with the American public, you should add exercise, a healthy diet, and critical thinking to that list :p

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