Monday, October 12, 2009

Argument with my father

"Possibly the truth lies somewhere in between." Do people still say that? When I was a kid you heard that a lot on the tv, always voiced by quietly smiling gray-haired men who were purported to be experts on the political life. From my father too -- if not the phrase, then the sentiment. He was a Democrat but very much a moderate Democrat, and he loved the idea of centrism. He believed you should jab your finger at the midpoint between American liberals and conservatives and figure that would do the trick.  The "somewhere" signified that you didn't even have to hit your target, the line that ran exactly down the middle. Landing in the neighborhood was enough for everyone to muddle through.

But, taken strictly, "somewhere" means nothing but "somewhere." The magic point of rightness doesn't have to be at the midpoint. Maybe it lies two notches away from one of the poles. Or maybe the rightness point doesn't have much of a penumbra and must be pinned down precisely by means of detailed thought and the processing of technical information. Or possibly there's no special reason to take the American liberal and conservative positions as the two poles that keep rightness between them. I'm for universal health care and gays in the military, so in the U.S. I'm quite progressive. But those positions wouldn't do the trick in Europe.

My father had a classic centrist temperament, whereas I see myself as a moderate conservative whose views on political issues line up with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. How do you tell a classic centrist from a moderate conservative? I was horrified by the Lewinsky mess and what the Republicans got up to -- the government was being destabilized because that way one side thought it could score points. My father never even thought about stability. He saw the whole business as a drama concerning an individual, Bill Clinton, who had broken the rules (meaning perjury laws) and now was going to pay.

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