Election 2016

Where Are the Centrists Who Care About Economic and Personal Freedom?

If you are fed up with both the left and the right, the 2016 candidate pool is a sad state of affairs.

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Call it "the missing middle." Not the supposedly vanishing middle-income or middle-class American family, about which politicians from both parties have been raising an alarm, but rather the moderate middle of American politics, which has lately been nearly imperceptible.

Two Republican candidates aiming at the centrist wing of the party, George Pataki and Lindsey Graham, recently dropped out of the presidential race. Jim Webb, who was on the right flank of the Democrats, couldn't make a go of his campaign.

What remains is weak beer for genuinely enthusiastic centrists.

Among the Republican candidates touted most frequently as electable or centrist-appealing are Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Yet both want to defund Planned Parenthood. Rubio says he wants to ban abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Both say they want to change immigration law in ways that would make it harder to reunify families. Both oppose gay marriage. Chris Christie and John Kasich also supposedly appeal to moderates, but they haven't gotten much traction and it's hard to see how either one has a path to victory in the Republican Party.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton may looks like a centrist in comparison to socialist Bernie Sanders. She has talked about simplifying taxes and reducing regulation, and she has promised to abstain from raising taxes on the middle class.

But Hillary's centrism is suspect. In a pander to labor unions, she's also opposed President Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal. She's also come out in favor of imposing an exit tax on companies that want to move their headquarters outside America to avoid our high corporate tax rates. And some of us who were around Washington during the 1990s still remember that Bill Clinton waited until Hillary was out of town before inviting cancer-stricken David Ifshin and his family to visit the White House, an anecdote that symbolizes the way the Hillary camp—Harold Ickes, Susan Thomases—was a kind of counterweight to Bill Clinton's New Democrat instincts and friends, such as his campaign counsel Ifshin.

At its worst, centrism can be a mushy lack of principles, such as George H.W. Bush's decision to raise taxes after promising not to. At its best, centrism can be a set of policies that are ideologically consistent—economic freedom and personal freedom, or freedom to enter the country and to exit it.

Is there a constituency for such a politics? Gallup polls show consistently—and as recently as last month—that more Americans identify as political independents than as either Republicans or Democrats. The most popular governor in America in one recent poll was the governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, a Republican who has focused on economic issues. Baker is pro-choice on abortion and featured his gay brother in a campaign commercial.

Massachusetts is not necessarily representative of the rest of America, however, as politicians including Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas, William Weld, and Mitt Romney found out when they tried to export their appeal.

Part of the explanation for the missing middle is the way the parties nominate candidates. Some states have open primaries that allow independents to choose to participate in the choice of general election candidates. But for the most part, candidates court the base in the primary season, then perhaps pivot later to a more centrist emphasis for the general election campaign. By then it's often too late, and independent voters are left to hold their nose and vote, perhaps splitting their ticket in the hope that a Republican Congress will curb a Democratic president's worst tendencies, or vice versa.

There was a political moment a few years back—with Governor Pataki in office in New York, Arnold Schwarzenegger in office in California, Michael Bloomberg as New York's mayor, and Rudolph Giuliani as a Republican presidential candidate—when it seemed like a pro-immigrant Republicanism with some flexibility on social issues or environmentalism might gain national traction. Likewise, the Clinton presidency offered hope at times—with welfare reform, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and capital gains tax cuts—for a more centrist Democratic Party.

Those moments appear to have passed, at least if the presidential campaign so far is any indication. It's the missing middle no one is talking about.

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  1. Where Are the Centrists Who Care About Economic and Personal Freedom?

    Um doesn’t centrism mean a midway point between the left and right? If the Left cares about Personal Freedom and the Right cares about Economic Freedom then a centrist is one who thinks there is too much of both. Of course this assumes that the Right care about Economic Freedom and the Left cares about Personal Freedom.

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  2. Centrists: those who find nothing too sacred to fuck up with more government.

  3. that more Americans identify as political independents than as either Republicans or Democrats

    Could be because neither of them will Get Things Done and hand out Free Shit.

    Governor Pataki in office in New York, Arnold Schwarzenegger in office in California, Michael Bloomberg as New York’s mayor, and Rudolph Giuliani as a Republican presidential candidate

    In other words the exact sort of Republicans the Reasonoids want!

    1. The butthurt is strong in this one.

      1. Shorter Jordan: LEAVE IRA STOLL ALONE!

  4. So Ira writes an entire column about centrists and freedom, and no mention of Libertarians? Does Ira think all issues/problems can be solved by government/regulation? By a two party system? This could have been written by CNN or Fox.
    WTF?
    Reason has lost its way.

    1. The ‘centrists’ are idiotic pieces of shit too stupid to figure out how things should work. Fuck them.

  5. Would a centrist even ally to a party, much less vote in a primary?

    Hmm, well there you go.

  6. The analysis & examples in this piece nearly leave me fingerless. It’s so hard to pick something in it to criticize, it’s so vercucked, starting w, “Yet both want to defund Planned Parenthood,” like that’s some wacky anti-freedom stance. And on & on to conclude with almost a rogue’s gallery of Pataki, Schwarzenegger, Bloomberg, & Giuliani. Sure, the 1st 2 looked decent for at least a while, but the last 2?

  7. Since both sides refuse to talk and more than likely demonize anyone who even suggest there is a middle ground shows you why there is no middle.

    1. “Middle ground”………like that budget deal Paul Ryan just passed? Yeah, that shit was real good. Why would anyone ever want to compromise with the communists that run the democrat party?

  8. “Gallup polls show consistently?and as recently as last month?that more Americans identify as political independents than as either Republicans or Democrats. The most popular governor in America in one recent poll was the governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, a Republican who has focused on economic issues.”

    Those people identifying as “independents” do not, necessarily, have a coherent ideological view as a group nor have the particular ideological mix of opinions Stoll wants them to have. What Stoll seems to thinks is important ideologically does not even seem to track with personal or economic freedom.

    “Among the Republican candidates touted most frequently as electable or centrist-appealing are Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Yet both want to defund Planned Parenthood.”

    How does defunding Planned Parenthood violate personal freedom? How is it inconsistent with economic freedom?

    The only way is if you accept the concept of positive rights and free stuff, which seems to make libertarianism into libertinism.

  9. Winston, you have hit the nail on the head.

    When Ira asks “where are the centrists who care about economic and personal freedom” he is conflating centrists with libertarians. They are radically different. The error comes in thinking of political philosophy as a line, with conservatives on the right and progressives on the left. But what does that line represent? Certainly not anything where one could place libertarians. It’s not a line that measures belief in freedom. That chart would have libertarians at the high end, with progressives and conservatives both in the middle.

    The political philosophy chart that would accommodate libertarians, in addition to conservatives and progressives, would be an x-y axis, with economic freedom on one axis and personal freedom on the other. Conservatives are low on the personal axis and high on the economic axis. Progressives are the opposite. Libertarians are high on both. (Of course, libertarians don’t actually separate the two, as they are one in the same as far as they’re concerned).

    When people ask me whether I’m conservative or liberal and I respond libertarian (and then inevitably have to explain what that means) they often conclude “So you’re in the middle.” I explain that I’m really nowhere on that continuum and try a simplified explanation of the x-y chart. Sometimes I think the only thing it accomplishes is showing them what odd ducks libertarians are versus the majority!

    1. I don’t think I’ve ever concluded that a libertarian/Libertarian is “in the middle”. What I normally conclude is “oh, so you’re for *your* personal freedoms, but you think *my* personal freedoms are an acceptable loss.”

      If you think that’s unfair, take it up with the libertarians/Libertarians who frequently act that way (regardless of what they say).

  10. This could’ve been a really good article about the near complete disappearance of centrist/socially liberal libertarians from major public offices (Gary Johnson, Bill Weld, etc.). And the betrayal of libertarian principles by so-called “libertarianish” Democrats out west. Instead you chose to talk about planned parenthood and present Giuliani and Bloomberg as if they were examples of “centrists” who supported economic and personal freedom. Really??

  11. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
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  12. I don’t think centrist means what you think it means. The center in America seems to largely be pro more government

  13. Yes, centrists / moderates are disappearing from government.

    No, the goal of libertarians should not be to do their best centrist / moderate impression. I’m quite happy to be a fiscal “far right”-winger and while I wouldn’t say I’m socially “far left”, I’m happy to support those who are.

    Some people are dumb enough to think political views are one-dimensional, right or left. At least do us the favor of acknowledging two of the hundreds of dimensions that actually exist, it’s a a far better approximation.

  14. You know what you find in the middle of the road?

    Yellow stripes and dead skunks.

  15. let’s “reunify” illegal or otherwise unnecessary immigrants with their families in their country of origin. When you come to this country (legally) you don’t need to bring your entire family with you. You can bring your spouse and underage children. If you’re worthy. That’s it.

    reunify? fuck off.

  16. Did you say “Michael Bloomberg”? The guy who tried to ban sizes of soda? In what sense is that a moderate position? How does that represent respect for liberty of any kind?

    There is one spectrum with any meaning, and that is statism vs liberty. The kind of liberties you’re willing to restrict have as much meaningful distinction as the color of a hangman’s noose.

  17. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do..

    Clik This Link inYour Browser….

    ? ? ? ? http://www.WorkPost30.Com

  18. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do..

    Clik This Link inYour Browser….

    ? ? ? ? http://www.WorkPost30.Com

  19. Its hard to vote for politicians who have no real principles and voters with no real principles (centrists, moderates) have to wait to see who the most popular choice is before they know how to vote.

    Right now, centrists everywhere have their finger in the wind trying to figure out who they are supposed to vote for. Once they are told who the most popular candidate is, they will know who to support. Until then, they are just trying not to be accused of having any strong opinions or concrete beliefs.

    Funny that Reason would care about moderates. I have never known a true Libertarian who was moderate about anything. I guess that says a lot about the modern Libertarian party. It ain’t what it used to be.

  20. After further consideration, I think Reason Mag either needs to declare that it is no longer a Libertarian publication or fire about 2/3 of its writers. I can’t believe the liberty-less American hating bilge coming from this supposed Libertarian mag. If it wasn’t for their strong support of gun rights, I would think I was at Salon or Mother Jones by mistake.

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