Last night on the Daily Show John Avlon plugged his book on the value of centrism in politics. Stewart jumped all over this in support of a moderate position, under the reasoning that 'both sides have something to offer, and we ought to be reasonable in deciding between the two'. This is opposed to extremism on either end of the spectrum.
I am sympathetic with this view, and though I am mostly liberal (of the classical academic variety), I think centrism and moderation in politics is a virtue. However, I dont know that centrism alone is the right solution. I haven't read 'Independent Nation', but Stewart at least seemed to be advocating a view where we take the two extremes and cut them down the middle to find some compromise.
However, sometimes the middle view just isn't right, and comprimises can't be made without some failure of integrity. I am thinking specifically of civil rights issues, especially with gay marriage (but feel free to pick your own pet issue- I dont want this thread to be about gay marriage). The centrist view is something in the neighborhood of seperate but equal (ie, civil unions), and the majority of the population seem to support this general approach. Centrist principles therefore dictate that this is the policy that should be advocated.
But this 'solution' seems to be a deep moral failure on the part of the centrists, in that it doesn't respect the rights of the individual and places them at the whim of the majority. Perhaps in opposition to the centrist policy is something like Independence, where the majority view is understood as subservient to the rights of the individual.
It seems to me that this sort of dichotomy is rather stable- one group advocating a middle position that aligns with majority opinion; another group advocating the rights of the individual when this runs counter to the majority. This of course wouldn't work as a party line dichotomy, since which view is right will often depend on which issue is under consideration. As far as civil rights go, I am inclined towards independece; with the vast majority of other social issues (health care, etc) I am happy to side with the center.
However, I think that setting these two poles in opposition might help the political discourse improve; it does away with the more extreme positions based in pure ideology, and clarifies the real focus of most debates. Both sides here clearly have something to offer, and settling the matter is much less a matter of yelling party line dogma, and more of a matter of deciding and deliberating which values we hold to be relevant in particular scenarios. It is, after all, a legitimate question, and in most cases one with no immediately clear answer, whether or not the individual takes precedence over the rest of society in a particular situation.