What, in today’s political culture, is a “centrist”? Old-fashioned political nerds define it by support for legislation and policy proposals. If you love really big tax cuts and favor abolishing several Cabinet departments, you’re not a “centrist.” If you want to defund the police and “end fossil fuels,” you’re also not a “centrist.”
This is one of those matters of political categorization that our most prestigious newspapers mangle on a regular basis. Liberal editors and reporters have an annoying tendency to define the center as the precise ideological location where they stand on the spectrum.
Case in point: The New York Times placed this fraudulent headline at the top of their front page on Sunday: “On Philosophy, Biden Cabinet Leans Centrist.” This is simply preposterous.
Reporters Michael Shear and Michael Crowley display their delusion (or their attempt to confuse the public) in their lede: “His economic and environment teams are a little left of center. His foreign policy picks fall squarely in the Democratic Party’s mainstream. His top White House aides are Washington veterans.”
Being a “Washington veteran” does not define your ideology. Sen. Ed Markey has 43 years of service in Congress. He also has an American Conservative Union lifetime rating of 3 percent. Being in the “Democratic mainstream” is a very different measure than being in a bipartisan mainstream, where you might define a “centrist.” Someone with a lifetime ACU rating of 44 percent, like Sen. Susan Collins, is a centrist.
The Times wants to have it both ways. They insist Biden’s “initial wave of personnel choices is a familiar, pragmatic, and largely centrist one.” And then two paragraphs later, they tout them for “a new sense of urgency about climate change.” So in the elastic definitions of the Times, you can have “urgency” to end fossil fuels and be “largely centrist” at the same time.
Their story brings in Varshini Prakash of the radical Sunrise Movement – the people who protested Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein as some kind of horrid petroleum-entranced centrists who were dooming the children to planetary death by failing to back a “Green New Deal.” She praised Biden’s environmental picks as a “departure from the leave-it-to-the-markets way of thinking” on climate.
You can tell the Sunrise Movement are extremists because the Times defines it as a “liberal group focused on climate change.”
What this betrays is that reporters sound a lot like Democratic politicians, trying to placate moderate or non-ideological voters with soothing sounds about centrism, and also placate the leftist base of Democrats with their warm praise for Biden’s “urgency.” Reporters praise Biden as “boring” in manner and “ambitious” in his agenda.
Finally, the two Times reporters declare there is no one yet in Biden’s cabinet “carrying the torch for the policies that he campaigned against during the primaries: free college for everyone, a costly Green New Deal, an anti-Wall Street agenda, universal health care and steep increases in the minimum wage.”
How can they forget the incoming vice president? Do they think she’s not in the cabinet? Kamala Harris signed on to the Bernie Sanders socialist “Medicare for All” health-care bill in the Senate and proposed a Climate Equity Act with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She backed Sen. Brian Schatz’s “Debt-Free College Act” and was an early ally of Sanders on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The New York Times isn’t committing journalism with articles like this. They’re engaged in political spin, trying to put a spoonful of centrist sugar on the national palate to help the socialist medicine go down.