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How to Plot a Moderate Revolution

November 17, 2010

 

What do George Washington, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin have in common, aside from their traditional roles as Founding Fathers and eminent dead white males?

The answer I’m looking for is that all three gentlemen were moderates who also happened to be revolutionaries. Moderate revolutionaries?, you ask incredulously. Why not talk about feathered mammals or the Venezuelan bobsledding team?

If your inner oxymoron alarm is ringing loudly, I understand. Just switch it off and bear with me for a few minutes.

Moderates take an undue amount of grief (as we moderates know from experience) for being wishy-washy, namby-pamby, noncommittal souls whose accursed timidity won’t allow them to take a stand. They’re accused of waffling on the issues… they’re reviled as unprincipled opportunists. Lately they’re even getting bullied out of their own political primaries.

I have news for you: those days are about to fade into history. The brave new era of the radical moderate is at hand. High time, too, as Ben Franklin would agree.

This past weekend I traveled from Philadelphia to New Hampshire, and it wasn’t just the autumnal New England landscape that lured me there. I’m on the board of CenterMovement.org, a fledgling activist group based in the historic city of Portsmouth.

On a brisk, sparkling November morning, we filed into a massive nineteenth-century converted mill and started chatting about our broken democracy. That’s right: broken. We radical moderates don’t mince words.

We agreed that our government — particularly the legislative branch — has abandoned its historic obligation to represent the interests of the American people. Instead, the system has become a corrupt and self-perpetuating machine, a grotesque Rube Goldberg contraption animated by big-money lobbies, thinly veiled bribes, redistricting chicanery and the endless need to collect campaign contributions.

All this is nothing new, of course. But we’ve decided to do something about it. Now. Before the entrenched interests formally establish a government of, by and for those who grease the machinery. 

We would call for Congressional term limits. Ban the gerrymandering of Congressional districts to favor career incumbents. And above all, stop the flow of money from powerful lobbies to our elected representatives.

To make our case before the public, we had engaged a young political activist to create a stirring video that we’d air on the Internet and link to our website. Now the rough cut was ready for our viewing pleasure. We watched it for the first time, and you could feel the excitement ripple across the room.

What we were planning was nothing short of revolutionary: a long-overdue “J’accuse!” that would spark a radical reformation in Washington. There was talk of a new constitutional convention. And yet we we still had our feet firmly planted in the center, favoring neither the PC warriors of the left nor the strange alliance of plutocrats and Tea Partiers on the right.

Even the left and right will want to join our cause.

As the video pointed out, it’s no longer a question of right versus left. It’s us versus them. Us being the rank-and-file citizenry; them being the empowered minority that pulls the strings in the halls of Congress.

In short, we’re plotting a revolution that would appeal to just about everyone who values democracy in America. A revolution that would unite the battling factions of the right and left behind our sensible call to arms.

Ours would be a bloodless revolution, of course. We’d rather not see heads rolling in the streets of Washington. After all, we’re moderates. But as radical moderates, we intend to shake up the system. And we’ll settle for nothing less than the restoration of honest-to-God representative democracy in our embattled republic.

While we’re at it, we’re about to demolish the lingering stereotype of the wishy-washy moderate who can’t take a stand. Timid and spineless, are we? Smile when you say that, pardner!

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. Priscilla permalink
    November 18, 2010 10:35 am

    Without exception, everyone I know who considers him/herself a “moderate” voted for Obama, despite his total lack of executive experience and the very real questions about his background (and, no, I am not talking about his birth certificate, lol, but issues such as his ideological beliefs and political associations). John McCain, long reviled by right wing Republicans as a “RINO,” due to his very real moderate positions and successful efforts to reach across the aisle was completely abandoned by the very people who had previously claimed to believe that his type of statemanship was what they desired. So, I begin here with a degree of skepticism…….

    I agree with the characterization of Washington and Franklin as moderates, but then why is the very balanced and limited form of government that they worked so hard to establish considered such an obstacle by most “movement moderates” today? I disagree with your negative characterization of an “empowered minority,” and, although I understand that you are not denigrating the idea of principled and loyal opposition, I don’t think that our form of government can effectively function without an empowered minority.

    If the moderate movement really wanted to listen to “the people”, I would think that the Tea Party movement would be viewed by it as a positive expression of democracy in action, rather than denigrated as a Know-Nothing insurgence ( are there Know-nothing types in the Tea Party? Yes, but they a minority) You don’t have to agree with everything that the tea parties do to see that they have grown largely in response to the unrestrained and often corrupt growth of big government. Yet most who describe themselves as moderates would rather shut the tea party movement down, out of fear that it secretly represents the right.

    So, I guess, when you come down to it, I am a cynic about this radical moderate movement, because I don’t really see how “shaking up” a broken system is going to fix it, if the original system was basically sound. Why not try and repair it? It seems as if that suggestion is viewed as “extreme.”

    In any case, as usual, a great and thought-provoking post……

    • November 18, 2010 2:03 pm

      Priscilla: Great and thought-provoking comment, as usual. :) None of us are challenging the wise and admirably balanced system created by the Founding Fathers. But it’s safe to say they would have been repelled by the hyperpartisanship, lobbying and questionable back-room deals that characterize our government today.

      Think of the federal government as a 220-year-old historic house. We “radical moderates” simply want to strip away all the bogus trappings that have been added over the years and restore the building to its original appearance.

      Why did so many moderates (including me) vote for Obama? Maybe because we’re boat-balancers by nature. That was my rationale: after eight years of military adventurism and runaway corporatism, I was convinced we needed someone to tilt us away from the right. In other words, we needed an UN-Bush to undo the damage. Besides, McCain just didn’t make a very inspiring candidate.

      I actually admire the populist nature of the Tea Party movement, at least moderately. I concur with their basic argument that the government has stopped listening to the people. But they lose me with their American exceptionalism, religiosity, and strident, alarmist exaggerations of Obama’s agenda, as well as their obsession with small government. (I think we need a “Goldilocks” government: a “just right” zone between a welfare state and social darwinism.)

      As for the “empowered minority” I rail against: I’m against any minority interest, right or left, dominating our society and our government. (It goes against my “greatest good for the greatest number” ideal of government.) I’m not a leveler, but you have to recognize that we’re in the midst of a second Gilded Age, with power and wealth increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Meanwhile, as our corporate leaders continue to outsource middle-class jobs, our own middle class is shrinking and stressed. This is a dangerous situation that has to be rectified sooner rather than later, or we’re going to have a lot of angry college graduates on our hands.

    • November 24, 2010 6:30 pm

      Well, Priscilla, I’m certainly an exception to your thesis. I consider myself a moderate, and I voted for McCain, and strongly condemned Obama, over and over again in my blog (you can read it; the posts are still there).

  2. Sandy permalink
    November 19, 2010 11:15 pm

    As always, Rick, your comments are spot on with me. I’m ready to join the moderate revolution.

    I think activists like the Tea Party lose a lot of credibility when they continue to lie about things that the president did or didn’t do. While “story-telling” is part of politics, I think they just go too far.

    I, too, agree that our government should strive to serve the greater good. We are all in this together.

    • November 20, 2010 10:00 pm

      Thanks, Sandy. Fighting willful distortions (like the right-wing myths about Obama) is one of the things we’re about.

  3. sicklygreyfoot permalink
    November 20, 2010 10:45 am

    Mr. Bayan:

    I’ve joined CenterMovement.org. I find its endeavor stirring yet rational. Very modest monetary donations along with avid readership will come from me. Questions: When and where is your next meeting? And how might you suggest I go about seeking other moderates in my local area?

    Priscilla:

    Let me begin by echoing your trepidation concerning the fervor of any particular “movement.” Your examples are dead on, but I’ll also add the “secular movement” as well as the “environmentalist” one, and Mr. Bayan just posted about the detrimental infallibility of the “health movement.” The true danger here, as with anything, is tribalism. Even a “movement” AGAINST tribalism can become tribal. This is the inherent folly of blind collectivism and ideology. Moderation should not be for its own sake, but should come about because it has proven to be a societal benefit.

    That said, I feel that it IS a societal benefit. Overwhelmingly, the writers and thinkers (and very rare politicians) who attempt both pragmatism and rationality emerge as moderates when expunging their opinions, no matter what their stances on particular issues. With two or three obvious exceptions—like Prohibition—the legislators of decades past inexorably succumbed to moderation where very significant legislation passed. And ultimately, when actually polled, most American citizens have a propensity toward moderate views. Why, then, do they (we) keep voting for extremists, you ask? Well, that question is a whole different issue itself.

    Most true moderates do indeed share many of the Tea Party’s grievances. But I must point out your self-contradiction, Priscilla. You suggest the danger of a radical movement, yet you fail to see what the Tea Party—which, like feminism, environmentalism, and race issues, were all well-intentioned—has become. The “minority of no-nothings” within it are the ones who influence it the most deeply. Undeniably, their most vocal proponents are far right wing ideologues. I don’t wish to debate the Tea Party’s ideological and partisan provenance (we can do that elsewhere), but there’s no doubt that the core of its present platform is an exact copy of conservative Republican sentiments. These sentiments aren’t necessarily bad by themselves, but one must ask: if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck…? This would be an example of how an “empowered minority” would NOT be a good idea.

    The only way to fix the government and society is to shake it up. The Tea Party’s actual means are laudable indeed. They’ve definitely shaken things up in response to leftist extremism. What Mr. Bayan and his cohorts (me!) suggest is no different. Keeping the aforementioned dangers in mind, I’d like to see moderates start shaking. We know we can do it.

    • November 20, 2010 4:02 pm

      Oh, and a postscript on McCain: There was no sense of moderation during his campaign against Obama. He went in lockstep with Bush for eight years, and made absolutely no appeal to the left wing at all after he announced his candidacy. It was not the moderates who abandoned him, it was the other way around.

    • November 20, 2010 10:18 pm

      greyfoot: CenterMovement is still a very young organization… it doesn’t hold public meetings (not yet, anyway). But I’m glad you raised the question, because at some point in the movement we’ll need to start local chapters and get people involved at the grassroots level.

      And I can’t help commenting on another one of your statements, even though it was addressed to Priscilla… it’s that so many important, well-justified movements (the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the civil rights movement, the antiwar [Vietnam] movement and the women’s movement, to name just a few) went over the top because they were led or commandeered by extremists. This is why it’s so important for moderates to let themselves become activists. Important movements need cool heads in charge.

  4. Priscilla permalink
    November 21, 2010 2:06 pm

    greyfoot, I understand exactly what you are saying about the Tea Party’s core being the same as conservative Republican ideology, and, to an extent, I agree with you…..however, I think that you inadvertently (or maybe not) assume that conservative ideology and Republican party political ideology are the same. Most “movement conservatives” are deeply suspicious of the GOP, and work within it only to the extent that it does not sell out to the lure of big government power.

    I think that one of the reasons that Reagan is so revered among conservatives and classical liberals is that he was able to articulate a positive and powerful conservative viewpoint and then used his political power to transform the GOP, effecting a political realignment that prevented the US from traveling down the same democratic socialist path to financial ruin that Europe has traveled (not to mention that he presided over a particularly positive era of American foreign policy).

    The other assumption – or maybe it’s a presumption- that I think you make (and this goes for you too, Rick :) ) is that all or most conservatives are “far right wing ideologues.” The fact is that about 40% of Americans consider themselves to be primarily conservative in their beliefs…their numbers include many highly educated professionals, many caring folks who work with the poor and underprivileged and many atheists and agnostics, etc, as well as the stereotypical knuckle-dragging, drooling bible-thumpers. The vast majority want to see responsible government, reasonable regulation and desire the reasonable continuation of social welfare programs such as social security, medicare/medicaid, etc. Their views on social issues such as abortion, gay marriage and DADT vary from being very much in the Falwell mode, to libertarian, to quite liberal.

    It is from this group that the “Tea Party” (which is not, after all, a monolithic group) draws its numbers. Honestly, I think that the reason that the Tea Party movement became intrinsically linked to the GOP was as a result of the health care debates and town halls, which exposed many Democrats as utterly unresponsive to the will of the people. In a sense, it was Democratic arrogance and incompetence that pushed the teap party from a potential 3rd party movement into a movement that decided it could work more effectively from within a major party.

    And, as far as McCain…..yeah, what an uninspired and poor candidate he was. I voted for him, but without great enthusiasm. (He was, btw, only the 2nd Republican presidential candidate that I ever voted for, but a disappointment nonetheless) But he is a moderate – a right-leaning one for sure, but still……

    • November 24, 2010 6:36 pm

      Priscilla, unlike you, I guess I’m a bit further to the right, though clearly within the “moderate” area. I’ve never voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate (the closest I’ve ever come to that has been not voting for either candidate in the first Presidential election I was eligible to vote in, in 1964, because Johnson struck me as unscrupulous and Goldwater as too extreme. In fact, from county council on up, I think I’ve only voted Democratic in three or four elections for any office, and I’ve voted third-party in about the same number.

  5. November 22, 2010 5:54 pm

    Priscilla:

    As I suggested before, a debate about the Tea Party’s origins isn’t exactly desirable, mostly since it would take page after page for us to reach any satisfactory compromise. I only know that the first outspoken Tea Partiers, though they CLAIMED to be mistrustful of modern Republicans, echoed almost verbatim the Republican platform. I DO hope you’re right that this was only a response to left-wing obstinacy, but I’ve yet to be convinced.

    I actually don’t make the assumption that ALL Republicans are the same, which is why I specifically called out the “far rightists”. I’m well aware of the moderates that exist in the Republican party. In fact, there are more moderate conservatives (at least in my observation) than moderate liberals. Here in my state of Indiana, R-Richard Lugar is one of the most liberal and “progressive” conservatives I’ve ever known. And our new House Speaker R-Brian Bosma has made a magnanimous move by appointing two Democrats to his committee, specifically to tackle economic issues. Bosma is a guy I’d like to get to know. As I said in my first response, though, any aspirations the Tea Party has or might have had have been almost completely obliterated when they let (or asked?) people like Glenn Beck or Dick Armey or Sarah Palin etc. speak for them. These people also CLAIM to be moderates, but their actions speak differently. If the impetus of this movement truly is moderation as you say, then these moderates need to speak louder.

    My admiration lies with more or less reluctant iconoclasts. Among them are George Will, Leonard Pitts (who lampooned Bill Clinton for his irresponsible, if not criminal, antics back in the 90s), Kathleen Parker (who received unmitigated scorn from her conservative readers for criticizing Palin), Christopher Hitchens (who was once a Communist, but abandoned the left wing—who now brand him a traitor—and not only because he supported W. Bush’s war policy), and Ron Paul. Obviously I don’t agree with everything these—and other—moderate but opinionated individuals say, but that they reached their conclusions ON THEIR OWN is beyond courageous in this day and age.

    Obama was my pick for president, but, like yours, Priscilla, it was with great disappointment. I supported McCain back in 2000, was perplexed when he dropped out seemingly prematurely, and then incensed when he did a 180 on most of the things he professed to appease the Bush administration. For me, this trumps his purported moderation. Has Obama proven to be any better? Certainly not in my opinion, but my real regret is basing my vote on an aversion to the opponent.

    Usually a bad idea.

  6. Priscilla permalink
    November 24, 2010 12:10 am

    greyfoot :

    So, we share an admiration for Will, Hitchens and Paul. I can’t say that I see Kathleen Parker in that iconoclastic mold – I prefer Camille Paglia and Peggy Noonan on the “female side”…….

    I guess, when it comes right down to it, I think that the Democratic party under Obama has been hopelessly compromised by unions and racial politics. The GOP is no prize package, lord knows, but it can still be pressured, by voters, into moderation.

    • November 24, 2010 6:28 pm

      Parker defended, and often still defends, the GOP in her columns. Her incisive comments about popular anti-war tactics (not the anti-war SENTIMENT, mind you, but the TACTICS) were frequent, and her indictments of modern feminism are incendiary. Despite these things, she still holds at least some views that would be considered liberal, such as Palin, gay marriage, and her wariness of the Tea Party. If you go back some years in her columns, you can actually see the evolution of her shift on certain issues. A progressive conservative, she’s the epitome of an open-minded moderate.

      Noonan isn’t bad, but I don’t see her as being any more iconoclastic than Parker. And I often agree with Paglia, though I am suspicious of her statement “I just feel that the religious perspective is our best chance to see the universe whole.” Did she—an atheist—mean that humanity and its history can’t be studied accurately without studying religion, (agree) or did she mean that no other study is equipped to study humanity like religion (disagree)? She did say in the same discussion that science and philosophy were sub par in comparison, so one wonders.

  7. November 29, 2010 5:43 pm

    Real familiarity with our founding fathers reveals them to be both less and more than our political class today. Less because they were engaged in all the petty political manoeuvring – anyone who thinks that negative campaign adds are a modern invention is oblivious to the hi-jinx of our founders, and more because despite their personal flaws they did something never done before, they created a nation and government on principles of freedom and natural law, on the rights of man rather than kings or gods.

  8. November 29, 2010 7:29 pm

    I will be happy to call out “moderates” for “being wishy-washy, namby-pamby, noncommittal souls whose accursed timidity won’t allow them to take a stand”. Your comments are interesting, but much of your wishes run at odds with those of the “moderate” founders you cite.

    Our founders deliberately constructed a government of competing special interests because they understood themselves, government and politics. Good government is nearly impossible, the best we can hope for is limited government. Describing the construction of the federal government as a system of checks and balances is fallacious. It was constructed so that it required a near unanimity – a super-majority to accomplish almost anything. They learned that there are rare occasions during which a powerful federal government was essential, but they grasped that not even the best of us could be trusted to administer that power.
    All the evil aspects of politics you rail about are irreparable. Whatever rules you construct, armies of politicians seeking power will eventually undo them. The nature of our politics reflects our nature. We are not going to all just get along. It is not money that corrupts politics but power. So long as government can easily dispense favours – and anything the government does will inevitiably result in favours, then money will find a way to influence the process.
    I will not deny that the tea parties have their share of wacko’s – though former witches seem normal compared to your ordinary elected representative, nor that many advocates of smaller government really mean smaller when it suits them, but they are likely to be far more effected than a new organization of moderates with a plan that appears to be little more than hoping we would all suddenly become better people. If you are unwilling to see some bloodshed, if you do not wish to see some heads roll then you will not see change.
    I beleive we are well past the point were moderate solutions were possible. It is the radical facet that is likely to be the most effective. Painlessly digging out of the fiscal hole we have dug would require more than a decade of double digit growth. I would be happy to see that, but an electoral revolt is far more likely. This past election will likely bring about political gridlock that atleast will prevent our problems from getting far worse, we are past the point where moderate change will restore a rosey future. For more than seventy years government has been selling us a variety of ponzi schemes that would have landed anyone else in jail the day of reckoning is arriving. Honest government is an unacheivable oxymoron less government is neither.

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