Guest column by Matthew Q. Joy, sophomore political science major
Many progressives acknowledge the existence of privileges that counterbalance oppression. The most commonly referenced and recognizable is white privilege, which describes the benefits that white people, often unknowingly, receive from a society that can be discriminatory against racial minorities. Liberals and progressives can be quick to call attention to many privileges, but one that often goes unrecognized is centrist privilege.
In a political environment that receives criticism for polarization, it has become almost honorable to self-describe as a “moderate” or a “centrist.” While there is value in recognizing opposing viewpoints and reaching compromises, the Republican Party has become too conservative for this to be possible. This has created a situation in which liberals who follow the moderate, compromising path – as opposed to holding steadfast progressive values – quietly benefit from the struggles of countless Americans.
Consider Obamacare, the foremost achievement of the Obama administration. Championed by the Democratic Party and fiercely defended by liberals during recent repeal efforts, it is often forgotten how the law came to be. Before it became the individual-mandate system precursed by Mitt Romney’s reforms as governor, candidate Barack Obama promised that his health care reform would be a “universal health care bill.”
Instead, Obama chose to compromise with congressional Republicans, who unanimously rejected the bill anyway. Obama could have been the president who implemented universal health care coverage. Instead, he left millions of people in the same disadvantaged position they already were. He never faced significant backlash for this, however. Instead, centrist privilege was put on full display as society lauded him a liberal icon.
Raising the minimum wage is another progressive cause to which centrists have hitched themselves. During the 2016 Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders famously rallied supporters around efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Pressured by her progressive competitor, Hillary Clinton announced in 2015 that she favors a $12-an-hour minimum wage. While this would be an improvement, it still wouldn’t allow any minimum wage worker to afford rent, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Still, Clinton was celebrated as a Democratic hero during the general election, despite these flawed policy positions. She was allowed to mask herself as a progressive, making her appear sensible compared to her opponent, but ultimately, she did little for the many people who needed the most from her.
Many heavy centrists seem averse to the idea of tuition-free public colleges and universities, but the U.S. doesn’t lack the means, as it has the world’s most bloated military budget. Still, centrists use tepid language and emphasize a need to be “realistic” when discussing the student debt crisis. Imagining a world in which public high school graduates are saddled with as much debt as public college graduates displays how much economic discrimination indebted students face for pursuing an education. The same figures who are applauded for their views on gay marriage and women’s rights are allowed to hold an anti-student position. This is just as horrendous as if they had reversed their stance on the aforementioned issues, with no consequence.
If it is socially unacceptable to be against abortion rights for women, civil rights for racial minorities and equal rights for the LGBTQIA+ community, it should be just as unacceptable to oppose providing healthcare to the uninsured, a living wage for the working poor and education for those subjected to the student loan crisis. In many cases, the minorities who are discriminated against by conservatives are the same people who suffer most from an economic system that isn’t being questioned by centrists.
Centrism is as vile as right-wing conservatism, but it contains the additional atrocity of having no social consequences for holding views that leave fellow Americans at a disadvantage. This creates a type of privilege. Centrist ideas must only garner electoral support when they are the final option standing between the public and a conservative disaster, and even then must be met with reluctance. Just as progressives denounce white privilege, it is time to denounce centrist privilege.