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What to call center field? It depends on the year

August 19, 2011

I’m sure most of us have heard the story of the frog in the pot of water. As the story goes, when the frog first jumped in, the water was cold. No problem. Then the temperature warmed a little bit. Still, no problem. Then it got a little warmer, but the frog had been used to the higher temperature and thought little of the new change in temperature. As the water grew warmer and warmer, the frog didn’t compare his current temperature to the cool temperature when he first jumped in…he made the mistake of simply comparing it to the previous temperature–until he found himself in a pot of boiling water.

I think that story applies just as well today. Ask yourself where our economy was when America was booming: what were our tax rates for the middle class and the wealthy? What infrastructure projects were underway? Was anyone talking about shrinking our safety net? Don’t look at just the last ten years. Take a longer view, say 50 years ago, and then look at today. Positions that were well in center field 50 years ago are now considered extremely left wing.

Consider the change in perception toward former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. When Republican President Gerald R. Ford nominated him for the Supreme Court in the 1970s, Stevens was considered moderate to conservative. Yet when Stevens recently retired, political pundits referred to him as the most liberal member of the court. But Stevens said he didn’t change…the political climate changed. In other words, the political name for center field changed.

The only way that you could call someone a centrist in the 1970s and a liberal in the 2000s is if you change where you’re standing. I believe some pundits confuse relative direction with absolute ideology…because they’re standing at the right field foul line, then everyone to their “left” is a liberal — including the people who are standing in center field.

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7 comments

  1. I agree with you. So-called pundits do not speak from an absolute spot. They get carried along in the current and rarely step out of it for a truly objective view. And Americans memories are short. Who remembers that the Clinton administration left the country with a surplus? In these days and times of 24/7 so called news and social media, we live in the moment and without context.


  2. I agree, Mary. I think we desperately need context in our news…long-term context. We have so much potential news time…but so much of it is taken up with opinion-based shows that serve to confuse people and promote points of view and make people believe that some talking point is correct merely because it’s been repeated 100 times. Repetition does not equal reality, but it certainly is an effective propaganda tool.


  3. Amen. I absolutely agree with every point you make. I think the best thing we can do is to write letters to the editors and opinion pieces for print and on-line venues that have plenty of context. I’ve decided that I can be more effective by writing and send work off to specific newspapers.


  4. I think you’re right, Cindy. “It’s all relative” applies here for sure. Mary Margaret’s points about context are right on, too. I’m doing my best to hold the most irrational nonsense at bay.

    I wanted to let you know I loaned my copy of “It’s Not Personal” to my best friend in town. She said she couldn’t put it down and particularly enjoyed the examples you gave. She shared a phrase she uses, “tyranny of the weak.” Your book really hits home.


  5. Thanks for your comments, Sharon. And thank you for your vote of confidence in my book by loaning it out to a friend! I think the phrase, “Tyranny of the weak” is very apt in many cases.


  6. I second everything Mary and Sharon said …


  7. Couldn’t agree more. I have noticed the way the political wind is blowing for awhile now with much dismay.



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