What's Wrong With 'Middle-of-the-Road' Political Positions?
At a dinner party recently, during which I acknowledged Democratic Party leanings, my host remarked, "So you're one of those big-government guys."
Not wanting to provoke contention over dessert, I gave a brief retort: That's just a slogan, I feebly uttered.
That brief exchange did, however, occasion later reflection. Am I so easily pegged by a single label? Or, am I a dinosaur in today's political climate - unable to get comfortable with either the far right overtaking the Republican Party, or the far left increasingly upset with the Democratic leadership of President Obama?
I failed the purity test several years ago when, after four decades as a "moderate" Republican, I became a "centrist" Democrat - although neither before nor after have I ever been a die-hard "party" person.
Today, like yesterday, I favor responsible government, irrespective of size. On the other hand, unlike the right-wing rantings of so many supposedly "little government guys" who love to paint all Democrats as being obsessed with expanding government, I've always rejected the idea that government knows best. Rather, government at all levels must constantly be challenged, controlled and, yes, limited - through the vigilance of opposition parties, special interest groups and hard-hitting media.
I also believe, in general, that government should largely stay out of social issues bound up in morality and religion and allow private businesses to fail without public assistance.
But we don't live in a dream world. Life is complicated and messy, involving choices that are rarely absolute. Even free speech does not allow instigating panic in a crowded theater, or "assembling" to the point of rioting. And, when the alternative is a cataclysmic collapse of our banking system, short-term government assistance is justified.
I confess to being a "big government guy" when it comes to a strong military, homeland security, protection of our food supply, pre-approval of drugs and safeguarding the environment. I want public parks run by government and I want tough regulations to prevent another Gulf/BP disaster.
It's easy to rail against big government - especially when people are hurting, frustrated and angry. But who is doing the most railing, calling for less government intrusion and more tax relief? More than likely not the vast masses, but a distinct minority whose position in society is least threatened - the get-off-my-back, give-me-more-tax-breaks crowd.
Who really thinks we can drastically shrink government, reduce taxes, and rely totally on private enterprise?
Since 79 percent of our budget is eaten up by entitlement programs, defense and other mandatory spending, will they "downsize" Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the military? Will they end farm subsidies? Will they stop huge tax "breaks" for homeowners - deductions for mortgage interest, and exemptions from capital gains for house sales? Will they halt other government "handouts" (food stamps, unemployment payments, veterans' benefits) and block any new federal "initiatives" designed to create jobs?
I'm sick of the radical "right" and sick of the radical "left." What I want is a new and improved "center" - a coming-together to advance our country and society, unbridled by dogmatic starting positions. People prepared to accept tough choices and shared sacrifices, not those repeating simple slogans, seeking ideological purity, or misquoting the Founding Fathers.
Instead of looking to the past, move forward by correcting the present. Reform election laws (shorter campaigns, less money, more disclosure), restrain vested interests that corrupt the system and impede progress, and forge new partnerships between government and private enterprise to improve our schools, spur innovation and research (especially in "green" technology), and repair infrastructure - steps essential to restoring our competitiveness and creating new jobs.
I can already hear the disdain building in opposition to my dreaded "middle-of-the-road" position. How can I be so misguided? Just get off the fence, join a side and revel in our national dysfunctional stupor.
Third (non-tea) party, anyone?
Carl R. Ramey, a former Washington communications attorney, lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at ckramey@ nc.rr.com.
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