The middle and the fringe

December 15, 2018

Growing up, my dad used to say, "Whenever there's a group of people, there's politics".

Addendum: wherever there's politics, there's a middle, and a fringe.

I'm temperamentally more of a middle person—not a radical. I enjoy keeping the lights on, getting to yes, finding something everyone can live with. The fringe sometimes calls the middle "unambitious", insufficiently radical, or not "pure enough". Guilty as charged, I suppose.

Recently I've found myself more on the fringe of a group I'm part of, a position I'd previously have dismissed as "too extreme", or radical. But being on the fringe has made me see something I hadn't realized: the fringe sets the terms of the debate.

The middle is usually seen as more powerful because they end up brokering the final terms—get everyone together, lock them in a room, and work something out; "the art of the deal".

On the other hand, the fringe might not be in the room when the middle brokers the final agreement, but they get to choose what the middle argues over. They're the broad-stroke, big picture folks who set the basic terms of what's acceptable and what isn't. The fringe's power isn't the last 5% negotiated at the 11th hour; it's the first 90%, setting what's even up for discussion.

Like many things, it's a yin and yang. We could use a little more middle in Congress right now, but too much of it breeds stasis and lack of change.

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