"Moderates" Are an Endangered Species
It's a dirty word, probably not fit for a general-circulation newspaper, and it has become the most pejorative of political labels.
I understand why moderates lay low and don't engage in debate. I can hear them thinking, "What is to be gained to get into a fight with these folks? They're crazy."
Public political debate naturally favors the extremes; sound bites, shallow slogans that pass for policy or philosophy, and deliberate ignorance of the facts are useful tools to hammer home a point, to make it memorable. It makes sense to me; they're a lot like headlines. And then, I assume, we look past the headlines and evaluate the intent.
But we know what assume means ...
In a world where compromise is considered foolish at best and generally traitorous, how can we have hope? Even on the local politics level, where nonpartisanship used to be the rule, the tenor of debate pushes us to the extreme.
According to the most recent Gallup polling, over the past 20 years, Americans have increasingly identified themselves as conservatives, with 40 percent of Americans calling themselves conservative or very conservative. The number of folks describing themselves as liberal, or very liberal, has been increasing over the past 20 years as well, with 21 percent of Americans choosing those labels.
In 1992, 43 percent of Americans called themselves moderate; now, 35 percent identify themselves that way.
So what? It is not a bad thing that people are more certain of their political philosophy, but it seems that as our political self-identification has polarized over the past 20 years, our views have also been captured by the staunchest of conservatives and liberals. Their voices dominate and crowd out debate within their circle. And in each case, debate is used to weed out the weaker, conciliatory arguments.
I love debate; the back-and-forth of ideas and arguments almost always leads me to a better understanding of the issues, of the process, and ultimately to a better decision. In virtually every business I've been associated with, it is the diversity of voices and opinions, freely expressed, which has led to success. But it seems that in the public arena, debate is for show, and for showing off.
There appears to be no compromise possible.
In a recent meeting, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper was chatting about Washington. "Congress only works one a day week," he said - "when it is in session." They don't show up to committee meetings; they don't debate; they vote the way their party leadership tells them to.
Confession: I am a moderate. I don't care what party these folks are in; nor do I care if they are liberal or conservative. There are plenty of merits in both philosophical approaches to life. But, and here the essential "weakness" of being a moderate in today's world is revealed, once they're elected, I expect representatives to represent everyone in their district, whether they agree with them or not, whether they like them or not.
We should expect representatives to do the work they were elected to do, and what we pay them for.
But then, I am worse than a moderate; I am also naive. We, the people, aren't really paying these folks anymore. Are we?
Frank Daniels, part owner of The Pilot and cousin of Pilot Publisher David Woronoff, is the community engagement editor of The Nashville Tennessean. Contact him at email@example.com.
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