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The Political Center Does Have Meaning

Centrist politicians accept some ideas from the left and some from the right, making it all too easy to dismiss them as unprincipled cynics. But not only can centrism represent a distinct set of ideas; it is also necessary for protecting democracy against populist authoritarianism.

SANTIAGO – Can the political center hold any meaning? That question has gained new urgency as politics becomes more polarized in the United States, Chile, the Philippines, India, and many other countries.

In a recent Project Syndicate commentary, political scientist Jan-Werner Mueller delivers a categorical verdict: No. Exhibits A and B in his case are Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, the two Democratic senators who have frustrated US President Joe Biden’s ambitious spending plans. They are not so much centrist as self-centered, Mueller argues, guided only by the imperative of getting re-elected. Theirs is a “zombie centrism,” devoid of any meaning.

But assessing the state of centrism by focusing on this pair’s antics is like studying mountains by looking only at what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the molehills of Mississippi.” A glance at the “the mighty mountains of New York” or “the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado” would be more revealing.

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