14.12.18

IT'S JUST A DIFFERENT SORT OF IDEOLOGICAL CONSISTENCY.

Reason's Matt Welch pens a lament for the return of Arizona senator Jeff Flake to private life.
There is no place more despised in American politics right now than the center. Not the ideological center, necessarily, but the temperamental center. That space inhabited by people who recoil instinctively from bloody-knuckled partisanship and the collectivist demonization it requires, who lament the erosion of democratic norms and the delegitimization of mediating institutions. At a moment of intense polarization, when the time for choosing was yesterday, who has the patience for such scoldy fence-sitters?

You can find a lot of libertarians in this unhappy camp, averse as they usually are to the tribal political hysterics of the day. Flake is among the most libertarian members of the Senate; in the House, arguably the most temperamentally centrist member is the one who prefers describing himself with the (as-yet lower-case) l-word: Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.). Amash's Twitter feed these days is filled with such cheery observations as, "Political discourse today is driven almost entirely by tribalism and bias and very little by principles and truth. We've come to a sad and dangerous place. Liberty cannot survive without virtue."

But you can find a lot of anti-libertarian people in the temperamental center as well. Bill Kristol. Benjamin Wittes. The late John McCain, and the D.C. establishment that mourned him (and its own receding power) for a week last month. There is a whole cadre of anti-Trump conservatives who have not yet come to grips with the way their support for war, surveillance, spending, bailouts, and wink-nudge populism helped discredit their precious establishment in the first place.
The problem Mr Welch is struggling with rests on overuse of the term "center" On one hand, he's talking about a philosophical principle, centered on such things as enumerated, separated, and limited powers, emergence, and simple rules for a complex world.  On the other hand, he's talking about compromise-happy squishes.  When the True Believers have taken leave of their senses, what good does splitting the difference between one form of madness and another do?  He sort of gets it.
Pox-on-both-houses centrism, even with some libertarian flavoring, does not always lead to wisdom. Setting your own coordinates by the position of the other two poles is reactive, unsteady, a recipe for squishiness. (This is one of many reasons why, even though there are many of libertarians who can be found in the temperamental center, there are a lot of other, more anarchistic libertarians who positively hate that place and the people associated with it.)
Exactly. It doesn't take a lot of work to locate professed socialists and communists who will have no truck with the left wing of the Democrats, either.

It also doesn't take a lot of work to figure out that there are limits to compromise.  Mr Welch praised Senator Flake for saving the Brett Kavanaugh nomination.
Commentators in the temperamental center — Timothy P. Carney Megan McArdle, Ross Douthat — proposed variations on the same theme: Just investigate a bit longer, clear up some of the more soluble disparities, and schedule a prompt vote. The non-grandstanding Democrats on the committee (basically Klobuchar and Coons) articulated a similar bargain.

But it took a haunted-looking Flake, reportedly operating on zero sleep, normally handsome face puffed up with five extra pounds of frown, to make that reasonable and de-escalatory framework a reality. The libertarian wing of the temperamental center delivered a result that at least temporarily forestalled the worst of American smash-mouth politics.
That libertarian wing is going to have to come to grips, sooner or later, with the reality that until voters figure out that the false binary of Republican and Democrat loses its validity with enough voters making a different choice.  To their credit, the true believers trading under various socialist and communist banners have been making such claims for years.  Unfortunately, they've got nothing by way of a positive vision to expand their constituencies very much.  Enumerated and limited powers, and emergence, have a lot more going for them.

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