Bloggers have had a name for political writing that defines a person’s moderation and reasonableness by his embrace of the most vacuous establishment truisms as his highest political truths. We have called it High Broderism, in honour of one of the masters of the art. Some of these truisms might include “America is a nation of immigrants” or “diversity is our strength” or “our country is too polarised” and its corollary “we should work together in a bipartisan fashion to solve our country’s problems.” By solve, of course, they mean compound, and by “bipartisan fashion” they mean “in slavish conformity to the status quo.” In this view, “extremism” is that which threatens the establishment’s hold on political power and which proposes to challenge or dismantle levers of power that the establishment of both parties wishes to preserve. Among the bugbears of such “centrists” are chiefly populists, the religious and the vehemently antiwar. In the last few weeks, we have seen the Broders of the right getting very anxious about disgruntled religious conservatives and evangelicals and disgruntled lower-middle class voters who are propelling Huckabee’s campaign forward. Over the past several years, we have become only too familiar with the “Very Serious” foreign policy establishment that dismisses the majority’s desire to end the Iraq war in the very near term. Now we are being told once again that the elite is reasonable and all those citizens who are at odds with it are not, just as the rationality and decency of the latter were denied by the leaders of the political class during the immigration debate.
A Kossack succinctly described it when he defined High Broderism as a “school of thought, best exemplified by Washington Post reporter David Broder, that Washington DC elites should provide the common wisdom to the ragged masses beyond the beltway. Moreover, Higher Broderism [sic] believes that the only acceptable politics is centrist. It’s not so much where the center is at any given time, it’s the centrism itself.” In this context, “extremism” is any political position outside an exceedingly narrow range of permissible options, even if that narrow range includes policies that are in practice brutal, unjust or destructive. In this view, it is “centrist” to maintain self-defeating hegemony overseas and launch aggressive invasions of other countries, while it is “extremist” to oppose these measures.
So we have a new facet to this kind of political argument: the monopoly on rationality claimed by those who are deemed suitably centrist, responsible and, undoubtedly, serious. This was always implicit in arguments for moderation and “centrism,” but now it is made clearly. Peggy Noonan has provided us with this insulting political analysis, by which those candidates best known for their anti-corporate and populist arguments (i.e., Huckabee and Edwards) are cast as “non-reasonable,” and those most wedded to the establishment or those least likely to challenge anything about the way government and corporations operate are “reasonable.” She declares Clinton “non-reasonable” to mix things up a little.
What ultimately makes this analysis so thoroughly Broderian is its complete arbitrariness and subjectivity. Noonan defines reasonableness largely by those candidates whom she finds agreeable for one reason or another, and imputes a lack of reasonableness to those whom she finds viscerally unappealing, which is not, as you may have noticed, a very rational basis for dividing up the candidates. Most absurd of all is her assessment of Giuliani as “reasonable,” even if he is not “desirable,” when there is ample reason to think that this is one of the least appropriate ways to describe him even if you agree with him on policy.