The definition of "extremist"

Major Premise: An “extremist” is a person whose views are very far removed from the mainstream; they are not merely a strong adherence to a common opinion, but the holding of opinions that are in themselves very unusual.

**Minor Premise: ** Taken as a whole, popularly elected members of congress reflect the general spread of opinion in the United States; with the exception that extremists (of all stripes) are rarely represented. Politicians as a group, IOW, have a general bias toward the center.

Conclusion: Anyone who can win support from a majority of congresspeople is, almost by definition, not an extremist.
And of course, you can see where this is headed.

Let’s put this in hypothetical terms: let us assume that on Bizarro-earth, President Kerry is attempting to put a nominee through the senate, which the Democrats control by a 55-45 margin. Now the Republicans would understandably prefer that he nominate a true moderate; say a Harold Ford. But Kerry, knowing the composition of congress, sends up Barney Frank. Rep. Frank is indisputably distasteful to the hard right; he also would easily win confirmation in the senate I posited above, and I submit that nearly by virtue of that alone he could not be called an “extremist.”

The evidence of that is that were a true extremist – let us say Cynthia McKinney or Dennis Kucinich – nominated, they would likely not pass the senate; centrist democrats would begin deserting. Despite remors to the contrary, politicans of neither party vote in 100% pure partisan lockstep; they are keenly aware that they are being watched by their constituients, and that confirming, for partisan reasons, someone that a large majority of their supporters think is a kook is not good for their own political health.
Thus, my conclusion: if someone is really and truly an “extremist” – i.e. far, far removed from the mainstream of public opinion – it should be fairly easy to convince a few members of the other party of that. If one cannot, that person is demonstrably not a extremist.

Extremists can and do win public office.

Reeder is an extremist. I’m a centrist. There you go.

Are you assuming that the Republican minority would not filibuster Rep. Frank?

Let’s try to pin that down a little more. Was the person who outed Valerie Plame an extremist?

Hmmm. Tough call. Is Robert Novak a douchebag?

Please indicate what in the OP leads you to think I said otherwise. Notice the part where I nmaed two elected officials I consider extreme.

No, no, no! I am a centrist, YOU are an extremist, and Reeder is off in left field somewhere. :wink: But Robert Novak is still a douchebag. A used douchebag filled with backwash.

This seems an odd definition to me. I always thought an extremist is someone who will go to extremes to advance his agenda. It has nothing to do with where on the spectrum one’s agenda lies.

For example, Quebec seperatism is a mainstream agenda in Quebec. It’s the central plank of a major provincial political party’s platform, and the raison d’etre of the third largest federal political party (in seats - 4th largest in votes). The FLQ, however, was comprised of extremists. Not because their views were far removed from the mainstream - they sought indepedence for Quebec, just as does the Parti Quebecois and close to half of the Quebec populace - but their willingness to go to extremes to advance their agenda. In their case, this meant bombs, murders, and kidnappings.

My example here, of course, doesn’t map at all neatly onto the SCOTUS replacement issue that the OP is clearly referring to, but I don’t much care.

Such indifference to normative behavior being, or course, the hallmark of extremism.

furt: I think you make an excellent point, one that seems patently obvious but should be made daily in the next few months as the battle over the O’Connor replacement is waged. I notice that no one attempted to dispute your position. It gives me hope. Gorsnak makes a meaningful distiction, as there are two measuers of extremism: one of ideology, the other of action.

I don’t think that extremists, in first-past-the-post elections, often win. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t differ from their constituency on certain issues, especially if their party asks them to do so. It’s a tightrope walk they have to do between party loyalty and angering their consituents. There are plenty of things that would never get approved by a plebiscite that get voted in by Congress (i.e. “pork”), and vice versa (i.e. “term limits”, if it were to come to a vote.)

And in this case, nominees are just another line item in the congressmember’s relationship with their voters, not the be-all end-all of their voting record. So Congress could nominate an extremist without themselves being extreme.

Is it possible to be a centrist extremist?

It’s not a bad argument, although when you’re dealing with politics and politicians you can never be certain of the true motivations of anyone. They’ll often disregard their stated principles on one issue in order to gain the advantage on some other issue they think is of greater imporance-- like getting themsleves re-elected.

Still, it would be hard for the Democrats to make a credible claim that a given nominee is an “extreminst” if they can’t convince at least a few (ie, more than one) Republicans to side with them.

Hey, I’m a moderate pragmatic centrist. It’s the rest of you who are dangerous irrational extremists!