A New Center? [Politics] [Wishful Thinking]

Political polarization in the USA has been increasing for decades, and has become quite severe. This may have a variety of causes, but it seems highly probable that the internet has played a large role, by facilitating the toxoplasma of rage to an unprecedented degree.

Recently I have the (wishful) feeling that the parties have moved so far apart that there is “room in the center”. The left is for people who are fed up with the extremes of the right. The right is for people who are fed up with the extremes of the left. But where do people go if they’ve become fed up with both extremes?

The question is: how would the new center work? There’s not room for a new political party; plurality voting makes that too difficult, because if the new party doesn’t gain more than 1/​3rd of the vote, it’s basically a wasted vote.

Here is my proposal for what it could look like:

  • Rather than operating as a traditional political party, New Center would attempt to be a formalized group of swing voters: it makes recommendations about which candidates from other parties to vote for. Given how some elections are consistently very close (most notably, the US presidential election), New Center might be able to achieve a kingmaker status even with only a relatively small portion of voters.

  • In order to accomplish this, New Center has to make recommendations which credibly represent centrist values (and only centrist values).

  • The New Center needs a strong set of criteria by which it judges politicians. These criteria must be based on a critique of the extreme left and the extreme right, to capture people’s frustrations with both sides.

  • Registering with the movement might involve pledging your vote to their recommended candidates. In return, registering might give you a voice in the selection process.

    • For example, New Center candidates might be selected by New Center members rating other party’s candidates on each New Center criterion. Of course this process is easily manipulated by rating your favorite candidates highly on every criterion; however, arranging the ballot this way nudges people to judge honestly. Also, strategic voting here isn’t that bad provided that those who join are actually pretty centrist in the first place.

It might also be good for the initial set of criteria, or at least the rhetoric, to appeal to moderate libertarians as well, since that’s a pre-existing group which considers its issues to be orthogonal to the usual political spectrum. I would personally think the core values of the new center should resemble Scott Alexander’s take on classical liberalism:

So let’s derive why violence is not in fact The One True Best Way To Solve All Our Problems. You can get most of this from Hobbes, but this blog post will be shorter.

Suppose I am a radical Catholic who believes all Protestants deserve to die, and therefore go around killing Protestants. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, there might be some radical Protestants around who believe all Catholics deserve to die. If there weren’t before, there probably are now. So they go around killing Catholics, we’re both unhappy and/​or dead, our economy tanks, hundreds of innocent people end up as collateral damage, and our country goes down the toilet.

So we make an agreement: I won’t kill any more Catholics, you don’t kill any more Protestants. The specific Irish example was called the Good Friday Agreement and the general case is called “civilization”.

So then I try to destroy the hated Protestants using the government. I go around trying to pass laws banning Protestant worship and preventing people from condemning Catholicism.

Unfortunately, maybe the next government in power is a Protestant government, and they pass laws banning Catholic worship and preventing people from condemning Protestantism. No one can securely practice their own religion, no one can learn about other religions, people are constantly plotting civil war, academic freedom is severely curtailed, and once again the country goes down the toilet.

So again we make an agreement. I won’t use the apparatus of government against Protestantism, you don’t use the apparatus of government against Catholicism. The specific American example is the First Amendment and the general case is called “liberalism”, or to be dramatic about it, “civilization 2.0”

Every case in which both sides agree to lay down their weapons and be nice to each other has corresponded to spectacular gains by both sides and a new era of human flourishing.

The classical-liberal rhetoric of the new center might be very similar to counterweight, except that counterweight only combats the extremes of one side (as expressed vividly by their name), rather than extremes on both sides.