Moderates get a bad rap frequently in the media and from political advocates. We’re seen as neither one thing nor another. At best we’re seen as boring or technocratic, At worst we are seen as wishy-washy, lacking firm principles. Some say that, in our search for practical solutions, we stand too often on the sidelines of history.
As in many things, there are grains of truth to all these criticisms. Nonetheless, I am now, have always been, and probably always will be a political moderate. Unlike the stereotype, however, I am far from wishy-washy, and I hope I’m far from boring. I am passionate in my beliefs. In fact, my original idea for the title of this blog was “Passionate Moderate”. However, my ever-loving and ever-wise wife suggested some people might think that was a strange type of porn site. One of my daughters, knowing me well, suggested “Pig-Headed Moderate”, and to be honest, I have to admit it fits me. It tested well with people I asked, so here we are.
I believe the center is a place America needs to rediscover. For much of our history we were a country devoted to the center, possessed of a center-left party and a center-right party, each dominated by sober-minded men and women who differed sharply at times, but the differences between them were not so sharp as to endanger coherent rule of the country when control passed from one party to another. Both major parties were “big tent” parties that sought broad support from all segments of the population. Not only were moderates prominent and frequently dominant in both parties, but it was even possible to be a liberal Republican or a conservative Democrat.
Needless to say, that is not the case any longer. The split between our two major parties is dramatic and, if anything, still growing. Politics is becoming more like a zero-sum game. Every win for one party is a loss for the other, and cooperation is becoming increasingly rare. The whole concept of the loyal opposition, absolutely vital for the survival of democracy, has been severely undermined.
The temptation for moderates is to always try to split the difference, to lay blame equally (or at least appear to do so in the hope of appearing unbiased) on all sides and seek common ground somewhere in the middle. That would be a grave mistake in our current situation.
The blame for the divide in our country may not lie entirely with one party, but it is pretty darned close. The Democratic Party, while it has moved somewhat to the left in the last twenty years, is still dominated by political moderates (ask Bernie Sanders, who did not win the nomination, or even come particularly close) . Those moderates may be under pressure from the left, and may have moved their agenda somewhat to the left to accommodate them, but they have not ceded control. More importantly, the party still embraces a wide variety of views on many subjects. It is not ideologically “pure” nor does it want to be.
The Republican Party, on the other hand, has changed radically over the last fifty years or so, and that change has accelerated over the last couple of decades. It is no longer a center-right party. Frankly, it is no longer even a traditional conservative party. It is a far right wing party. There are no more liberals or even moderates in the Republican party. They have all been purged from the party in great, gleeful RINO (Republican in Name Only) hunts, or have left in dismay. Those that the press now labels “moderates” in the Republican Party today are what used to be called conservatives, and they are losing influence rapidly.
Worse, the Republican Party’s wink and a nod flirtation with white male identity politics that began with its odiously cynical “Southern Strategy” has borne hideous fruit. The cold-blooded conservative politicians who created that strategy have now lost control of their monstrous creation almost completely, and are now being pulled helplessly along in it’s destructive wake. Donald Trump did not create the disfunction that rules the Republican Party now, but he is a product of it, and is its poster child. A man immensely unqualified and unfit to be President who could only have won with the support of a relentless propaganda campaign (more on that another time) designed to divide us and smear everyone so he would not look as bad in contrast.
So, as a moderate, I cannot just stand in the middle and seek common ground. There will be a time for that, but not until the present danger to our democracy has been defeated. So I must stand with the Democratic Party because it still has room for people like me, while the Republican Party does not (and in a two party-system like ours, inevitably a choice must be made). When I was younger, I could possibly have been a Republican, as I agreed with them on quite a few issues. That is no longer true, and it isn’t because I’ve changed.
I don’t agree with the Democratic Party on everything (I don’t agree with any person or institution on everything – did I mention I’m pig-headed that way?), but I agree with them on much more than I disagree. Most importantly to me, they are still a party which embraces diversity. Diversity of political opinion. Diversity of race. Diversity of religion. Diversity of gender. Diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Republican Party does not. I have been blessed to travel throughout much of our country and abroad, and the people I love come in all shapes, sizes, ages, races, genders, etc. I cannot and will not support any party that does not have room for all of them.
I hope that some day, sooner rather than later, the Republican Party comes to its senses and the party of Lincoln recovers its soul. I hope that they will someday again perform the useful role of a traditional conservative party, applying cautious brakes on the chugging engine of change, rather than trying to derail it. In order for that to happen, however, the extremists and radicals currently running the show and their hateful, divisive message need to be utterly defeated and discredited so that traditional conservatives can return to the fore, and yes, perhaps even allow a few moderates back into the fold.
Until that time, the task of moderates like myself is not to seek a middle ground between insanity and reason and between bigotry and community. The choice is not one between right and left at this time. The choice is between right and wrong.
That’s why I am both a pig-headed moderate and a Democrat.