It’s my pleasure to introduce something new to The Gazette’s opinion page. In my 60 years on the planet, I’ve never seen America as divided as it is now. But in our obsession over the coming election, we should remember that ideas last longer than presidents, and can do a lot more good. I want this new column to be a place where readers might encounter new ideas, or new reasons to like ideas they thought they couldn’t stand. Welcome to the Radical Center.
In this space, you might see conservative arguments for a traditionally liberal cause. Repealing drug prohibition, adopting a less interventionist foreign policy, supporting church-state separation and ending corporate welfare have compelling arguments in the best conservative tradition. Unfortunately, those arguments are not always heard. They’ll be given voice here.
Other times, you might see liberal arguments made for traditionally conservative causes. Criticisms of the welfare state, support for school choice, free trade and low taxes are positions that can be supported by liberals on simple humanitarian grounds, rooted solidly in the best liberal traditions of helping the poor and downtrodden. In the present political climate, those views are too often shouted down. They’ll be given voice here.
Still other times, I hope readers from all over the map will encounter something new that makes them think. Liberal, conservative, libertarian, independent, it doesn’t matter. There are lots of smart people trying to come up with creative ways to solve America’s problems. If I think one of them has an idea that deserves more traction, I’ll talk about it here.
What do I mean by “radical”? That word has a bad rap. Radical isn’t always bad. If you’ve got a radical problem, you need a radical solution. If a problem has been around for a long time, or cuts very deep, or both, that’s probably because conventional solutions aren’t working. What’s radical today might be common wisdom tomorrow.
All right, maybe not tomorrow, maybe in 10 years. Maybe 20. Maybe 50. But if that’s how long it takes, so be it. When it comes to making the world better, sometimes you have to play the long game.
One of the things a free press can do is change the parameters of what’s acceptable to talk about. Homosexuality used to be punishable by imprisonment. Today no one in their right mind would deny the full and equal humanity of gay and lesbian Americans. School choice used to be the exclusive province of an academic economist or two. Now charter schools are everywhere. In academic jargon, this movement in what and when ideas get taken seriously is called “shifting the Overton window.” I’d like to see readers of this column be a part of that.
If we’re going to be talking about ideas that are “radical”, how can they possibly be part of the “center”? I’d argue there’s a lot that folks on both sides of the partisan divide can and should agree on, if we weren’t so viciously divided as a nation. Part of that is due to the two-party system, part of it to human nature, part of it is just historical contingency. The question is where do we go from here.
What is needed is a realization that while our differences are real and shouldn’t be glossed over, there are many aspirations we have in common. People want a better life for those who come after them. Hopefully, torch of human progress can still be carried. People want stable societies that let them plan for the future. They want to live fulfilled lives, to be part of healthy communities, to have a sense of human flourishing, to be confident the world will be better tomorrow than it is today. For as long as readers let me, I hope to share here some reasons why I think that confidence is well-founded.
In times of pandemics, bitter partisan division, and apocalyptic predictions of post-election doom, we tend to forget what politics is for. Yes, we have problems. They are substantive, they are serious, and they are hurting our fellow citizens even as we speak. And yes, good people disagree on ways to solve those problems.
But we shouldn’t let COVID, the upcoming election, or the disturbing international scene blind us to the potential of the human spirit and the shared ambitions of our common humanity. Together, let’s see where that takes us.
Barry Fagin is senior fellow in technology policy at the Independence Institute in Denver. He is a widely published author and commentator, a National Civil Liberties award Winner, and a regular Gazette contributor since his arrival in Colorado Springs more than 25 years ago. The Radical Center will be published every other Thursday. Readers can write Fagin at firstname.lastname@example.org.