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Gary M. Galles - Contributor

Mr. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. [go to Galles index]

Out of the Mainstream
The pretense of political extremism…
[Gary M. Galles] 9/22/04

”Out of the mainstream.” After the latest accusation about Vietnam or Iraq, that is one of politics’ most well-worn phrases. For example, each of President Bush’s filibustered judicial nominations has been hit with it. And John Kerry, aware of his vulnerability to that charge, has tried to preempt any such attack, saying “They’re the ones who are extreme. We’re the ones in the mainstream.”

Unfortunately, “out of the mainstream,” as an analogy, can be used to mislead as well as better inform. That is because anything is unlike, as well as like, what it is compared to, so that misleading inferences can always be drawn. And that has been its dominant political purpose.

Defaming someone as “out of the mainstream” introduces a majoritarian bias, because mainstream is equated to normal, which in turn is equated to correct. But while elections are decided by majority vote, America is far from a majoritarian system. Our Constitution put many choices completely off-limits to political determination, regardless of mainstream sentiment. Rather, America was created to defend individual liberty against majority pressures. This is especially true with the judiciary, whose primary role is to preserve the Constitution against majority abuses.

The mainstream analogy sneaks in a false precision, by implying one knows who is and who isn’t in the mainstream. But where the mainstream is and how far from it’s center it is acceptable to be are undefinable, especially when such attacks come from those across the stream, if not beyond it (e.g., when those from law schools that make political science departments look like Republican strongholds call conservative jurists “outside the mainstream”).

The mainstream may be in the wrong place, as well. After all, the mainstream can change, and has changed in our country, but only because some were out of the previous mainstream. The idea of men being created equal, with inalienable rights against government abuse, is a long way from the once mainstream belief in the divine right of kings. And the freedoms enshrined in our Bill of Rights--to speak, write and worship as we choose, and to have our property protected from government predation--were once also far from the mainstream.

A compelling case can also be made that the political mainstream has jumped its Constitutionally enumerated banks, causing a great deal of damage, and needs to be re-routed to its original course. If so, only those out of the current mainstream can lead it back. For example, the now-common view that using government coercion to commit theft (though always dressed up as something noble) by whoever can command a majority in Congress is acceptable means acting to rein in such policies is clearly outside today’s mainstream, though not that of our founders. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest, breaks up the foundations of society.”

Today, almost every “out of the mainstream” allegation involves someone resisting some government encroachment on our shrinking freedoms, or who threatens to win back freedoms once taken for granted. To anyone committed to liberty, that reveals that many of those claiming to be in the mainstream, not those “out of the mainstream,” are the greatest threat to what has made America great. CRO

copyright 2004 Gary M. Galles




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