Cautious or incremental approaches can be sensible. If you aspire to play with the Heartland Festival Orchestra, it’s pragmatic to practice well before approaching conductor David Commanday; if you dream of running in June’s Steamboat Classic, gradually getting in shape is wise.
However, if your house is ablaze, you call firefighters immediately; if you see deer approaching the road, you change direction.
The country is in an emergency and must change direction.
In President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech last month, he called for cooperation, and the temptation is to see an attempt at being reasonable. When Trump remarked, “Now is the time for bipartisan action,” some heard “surrender to my demands,” but the speech also was a veiled plea for a “middle-of-the-road” approach.
Such Centrism is as much a political stand as Left or Right.
Embracing centrism are politicians from ex-Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., to billionaires including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Starbucks bigwig Howard Schultz. They’ve all criticized both Trump and progressive policy proposals almost three-fourths of Americans favor, such as raising taxes on the super-wealthy and switching to a Medicare for All health-care system.
Addressing a July conference of centrist Democrats, Bustos famously warned, “There’s a lot of people that just don’t really like protests and don’t like yelling and screaming,” but U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D.-Del., was more belligerent, saying Democrats must “abandon a politics of anxiety that is characterized by wild-eyed proposals.”
Bloomberg on ABC’s “The View” said, “Most Democrats want a middle-of-the-road strategy,” and Schultz has commented, “A choice between Donald Trump and a far-Left-leaning progressive Democrat provides a wide and large opportunity.”
Writing about Schultz, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said, “Despite his demonstrable policy ignorance, his delusions follow conventional centrist doctrine … furiously opposed to any proposal that would ease the lives of ordinary Americans. The most disruptive, dangerous extremists are on the Right. But there’s another faction whose obsessions and refusal to face reality have also done a great deal of harm: fanatical centrists. The hallmark of fanatical centrism is the determination to see America’s Left and Right as equally extreme, no matter what they actually propose.”
The labels “conservative” and “progressive” broadly describe those seeking to undo social reform and regulations, allowing disparities in wealth and power, and those who seek meaningful reforms toward a fairer distribution of wealth and power.
Centrism is highlighted by generally maintaining the way things are, resisting reform, or at most very slowly improving society.
As Pulitzer Prize-winning political scientist James MacGregor Burns and others have noted, there are transactional and transformational approaches to governing. Transactional types tend to seek rewards, penalties and compromises to preserve the status quo; transformational folks listen, engage and collaborate in the risky and often exhilarating effort to change.
Locally, centrism may be found in hesitating to become a “sanctuary city,” a municipality where local resources aren’t spent to enforce controversial federal immigration laws. Statewide, centrism seeks to avoid “rocking the boat” over redistricting by the political party in control to favor that party or discourage opposition.
Nationally, centrists on domestic issues put their faith in the “free market,” Federal Reserve or corporations to stabilize an economy instead of recognizing economic classes and people’s needs. Internationally, centrists see other nations supporting terrorism or destabilizing regions; views U.S. military or diplomatic interference as justified; considers interventions in Iraq, Yemen, Venezuela and dozens of other countries as in the national interest; and labels some foreign leaders as allies or tyrants (or both, at different times), depending on their usefulness to multinationals’ financial interests.
Centrists may blast Russian oligarchs or Canadian health-care providers, but they’re reluctant to address the U.S. elite or to criticize the commercial approach to treating and healing Americans.
Again, being middle-of-the-road doesn’t mean civility or bipartisanship as much as protecting the way things are, claiming that “the system works” or seeing foreign affairs exclusively through red-white-and-blue glasses.
(For its part, the mainstream press so easily falls into the centrist line that they uncritically repeat government propaganda, almost like state-run media.)
Actually, according to studies by Greek researcher David Adler of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 organization, moderates are dangerous.
“Democracy is under threat,” Adler said. The “assumption [is] the threat is coming from the political extremes. This isn’t the case. Centrists are the least supportive [and] most skeptical of democracy, the least likely to support free and fair elections [or] to support liberal institutions [such as] civil rights, are most supportive of authoritarianism [and] seem to prefer strong and efficient government over messy democratic politics.”
As progressive Texas writer Jim Hightower has said, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.”