Happy 4th to my readers in the U.S.A.! I hope the weather is better in your neck of the woods than NYC. It’s overcast and raining. Not the greatest weather for a bbq or fireworks. If the weather clears up I’ll post some pictures of the fireworks tomorrow.
Last year I wrote a post about one of the battles of the War of Independence, the Battle of Brooklyn as well as the tension between classical liberalism and social liberalism. This year I want to focus on centrism because I had an opportunity to see Gil Troy last night on CSPAN 2’s “Book TV” program. Troy is a professor of History at McGill University. He was discussing his recent book, Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents at the New America Foundation.
As is evident by the title, Troy is a centrist, and this book is part history and part centrist manifesto. His argument is appealing to me and I suspect for other centrists as well. Troy seeks to identify the “rich, vigorous tradition of muscular moderation in America” and he focuses on three elements or themes:
3. Romantic Nationalism
Why romantic nationalism? In a highly partisan political system, how do you deal with political passion and intensity without driving Americans apart? Troy argues that true centrism is built on a love of country and a desire to bring Americans together in a substantive way. Perhaps a better term would be rational patriotism.
My main disagreement was when Troy identified Obama as a centrist. At the beginning of the primary, Obama’s rhetoric was solidly centrist. His voting record proved otherwise as did his bases of support. Rather than being the candidate who would somehow “transcend race” his campaign operatives labeled Bill Clinton a racist.
Here’s Troy at the History News Network:
Obama’s vision of new politics, which she chides him for abandoning, is rooted in a traditional push for the center, with a renewed, optimistic vision for today.
Obama’s centrism is part of a great American political tradition. America’s greatest presidents were maestros of moderation, who understood that the trick to effective leadership in a democracy is finding the middle, or creating a new middle. George Washington viewed his role as more of a referee than a crusader. He preached repeatedly to his squabbling subordinates, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, about finding common ground. Abraham Lincoln spent most of his time in office, negotiating, compromising, cajoling, and conniving to keep the badly divided North united against the South. That is why he emphasized fighting to keep the Union together rather than liberating the slaves, despite his personal dislike of slavery. Theodore Roosevelt, although temperamentally immoderate, proved to be an adept arbitrator, ending the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902, and even earning a Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomatic skills in resolving the Russo-Japanese war. Franklin Roosevelt, though often denounced as a radical, in fact tacked carefully between the extremes of the radical left and the complacent right, inching America toward a modified welfare state.
Troy rightly dismisses the notion of centrists as fence-sitters who lack conviction. However, by identifying Obama as part of this tradition he does his thesis a great disservice. In the past month we’ve heard Obama twist to and fro and a variety of policy positions from trade to the war against Islamist extremism. Obama is not a centrist, he’s a typical politician who will say anything to any audience in order to get elected. This is not principled centrism.
Gil Troy blogs here. I look forward to reading his book.
You can watch the “Book TV” program below: