The paradox of centrism
Anderson edited "Leveraging: A Political, Economic and Societal Framework" (Springer, 2014), has taught at five universities and ran for the Democratic nomination for a Maryland congressional seat in 2016.
Philosophers and psychologists refer to the "paradox of happiness," which says that if you pursue happiness directly you will probably not be successful. You are more likely to find happiness if you pursue it indirectly.
There is a lot to unpack here, but the concept makes a lot of sense. If you are too driven to achieve a goal, you may lack the conditions needed for the goal to be achieved. These conditions include the right emotions, attitudes, and plans. Thus, if you are too driven to be happy, you will probably be very anxious and prone to disappointment as you run into obstacles in your quest for happiness.
An analogy can be made to the goal an increasing number of American citizens and political theorists and pundits have for America to overcome polarization and become more centrist. Perhaps the most well-known organization seeking centrism is No Labels. They have recently published a handbook of centrist goals, and they have an insurance policy of running (though not funding) a centrist ticket of a Democrat and Republican for president and vice-president if their research shows that "the right environmental conditions exist" for such a ticket to win.
The paradox of centrism takes a different approach. First, the paradox of the centrism camp believes that changing the American political system will take many years, certainly five to ten. It is probably a generational goal; nevertheless, it must be started somewhere.
Second, the paradox of the centrism camp says that we should not push for a centrist political party because this will paint a target on the back of the centrist point of view. If you attack the Democrats and Republicans head on, you are riding your bicycle into two trucks. We need an indirect approach to advancing centrist goals, be they moderate centrist goals or more ambitious new centrist goals. By using an indirect approach it will be more difficult for the two major parties to undermine the approach. Indeed, it may be hard to tell which actions are part of the approach itself, and thus it may be hard to trip up these actions.
Third, the paradox of the centrism camp believes that the goal of bipartisanship must be replaced with tri-partisanship. The goal of getting Democrats and Republicans in Washington to work together and pass major bipartisan legislation is not realistic in the current political environment. Seeking tri-partisan solutions is a better mid-range and long-range goal, recognizing that seeking bipartisanship now cannot be avoided.
It is important to remember that the budget can be passed via reconciliation and does not require much if any bipartisanship so long as there are 51 votes in the Senate (not 60) and a majority in the House. The 117th Congress had Democratic majorities and reconciliation worked. Time will tell how the divided 118th Congress addresses the challenge to pass a budget and the 13 appropriation bills.
In order to get to tri-partisanship we need enough independents in the House and the Senate to create a third force in American politics, but these independents do not all need to come from the standpoint of political centrism. To the contrary, they can come from all ideological perspectives, from libertarian to green and including moderate centrists and ambitious centrists that try to transcend mainstream politics and arrive at creative solutions to problems.
Charles Wheelan, professor of economics at Dartmouth College, argued in The Centrist Manifesto that a centrist political party needed to elect five to six independents in the U.S. Senate as part of a leverage strategy, what he called "The Fulcrum Strategy." This approach failed in 2018. It was too direct. The paradox of centrism teaches us to be indirect. Better to just elect independents and let them exert leverage against the two major parties.
We of course need structural changes to the political system, notably ranked choice voting and open primaries. But the key is to work indirectly towards centrist solutions, which includes ambitious new centrist solutions and not only split the difference between centrist solutions. How five to six independents can be elected to the U.S. Senate -- there are three now, Sanders (Vt), King (Me), and Sinema (Az) -- is a huge question. But pursuing that goal is more likely to get us to moderate or ambitious centrist legislation in Washington than somehow compelling the Democrats and Republicans in Washington today to arrive at bipartisan, centrist solutions to our policy challenges in the areas of immigration, guns, racial relations, energy, LGBTQ rights, the environment, and family policy.