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Bayan’s Field Guide to the Middle

September 26, 2009

After my elaborate dissections of the right and left, you knew it had to come to this. Fortunately or not, describing the center of our political spectrum is a relatively simple affair. But at least for now, it’s not an especially inspiring one.

Apathetic moderates. The vast majority of our tribe (and just possibly the majority of Americans) can claim membership in this backward and nondescript class. They have their comfortable homes and families and their decent jobs; they grumble occasionally about taxes and the stock market and wonder aloud whether their school district is better or worse than XYZ Township’s school district. They watch their favorite TV shows, yawn and drift off to sleep.

Closet moderates. They tend to socialize primarily with liberals or primarily with conservatives (in case you haven’t noticed, sociopolitical self-segregation is a way of life in the U.S. today). They’ll instinctively disagree with many of their friends’ extremist pronouncements, but they’d rather not disrupt any dinner parties with their reasonable (and unacceptably unorthodox) viewpoints. So they say nothing.

“Column A/Column B” moderates. “Say again?,” you ask. Simple: they’re people who might describe themselves as social liberals but fiscal conservatives… or socially conservative but left of center on matters economic (especially after the recent depredations of Wall Street). In other words, they take independent stands on individual  issues — but when you average it all out, they stand with us. I respect Column A/Column B moderates for their nondogmatic thinking, but it remains to be seen if they’d join a moderate movement.

Concerned moderates. They read the news, discuss politics with their friends and vote their conscience. They’re alarmed by the political polarization of American society, but there’s really nothing they can do about it… so why have a stroke?

Radical moderates.  An oxymoron no longer! Some of us refuse to tolerate the continuing domination of American politics by left-wing and right-wing extremists; their chronically slanted arguments are driving us to unprecedented levels of political exasperation. We’d just like to hear the truth for a change: the unslanted, unvarnished, 24-carat truth. In fact, we demand it.

We demand to hear the truth from our elected representatives, not the scripts dictated by lobbyists with bottomless pockets. We demand to hear the truth from journalists, pundits, bloggers and their fans, not the self-congratulatory partisan smackdowns of the despised opposition. We demand a new level of cooperation between our two entrenched political parties, because we’re sick of the petty bickering and perpetual stalemates that get nothing accomplished. (How much longer can we wait until Congress enacts a healthcare reform bill — any bill — that keeps us from losing what’s left of our fortunes if we have the temerity to get seriously ill?)

If the partisans continue to favor their own special interests over the welfare of the general public, we moderates — all of us — will have to rouse ourselves from our slumber. We’ll have to become radicals for the good of the country. Yes, moderates can be revolutionaries. (I submit George Washington and Benjamin Franklin as Exhibit A and Exhibit B.) We would ignite our moderate revolution (a bloodless one, naturally, because, well… we’re moderates) by lighting a fire under the mass of apathetic moderates, voicing our opinions in public forums like this one, pressing for the triumph of common sense, and enlisting the support of  moderate-leaning liberals and conservatives who, until now, have had nowhere else to go. Populism is gaining ground at an almost alarming pace, and we need to make sure that it finds a safe outlet in our sensible philosophy.

In the end, we moderates must create a long-overdue political party of our own, one that would shun the special interests of right-wing plutocracy and left-wing identity politics in favor of unity and genuine justice for all. It’s time for Mr. Smith — hundreds of Mr. Smiths, brimming with fresh ideas and good will — to go to Washington and prevail over the corrupt political hacks who have dominated that town for longer than most of us can remember. Maybe those Mr. Smiths need to descend on Wall Street, too.

Can we start a moderate revolution — or even a vocal moderate movement? It’s up you.  First we need to hear from you.  (Radical moderates need to speak up in the time-honored manner of radical leftists and conservatives.) The problem with being a moderate is that we’re simply not used to hearing our own voices in public. Maybe it’s time for us to clear our throats and give it a try.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 28, 2009 12:06 pm

    Moderates have this stereotype as being spineless, content to ride the fence and afraid to fight, when the truth is we’re the only ones with the courage to stand in the crossfire.

  2. September 28, 2009 11:04 pm

    Right you are, Al… I’ve been trying to convey that point all along. It takes guts to formulate ideas that will take a hit from both sides.

    Of course, the problem is that most so-called moderates just can’t get excited enough to jump into the fray. (That’s where our unfortunate reputation for spinelessness originates.) We have to light a fire under these folks, and that’s the primary reason I’m here. I’d like to see moderates become as passionate as the extremists, but without the dogmatic rhetoric and slanted agendas.

  3. Margy Layton permalink
    October 19, 2009 7:36 pm

    Just came across your site (you’re listed in the freshman composition text–pub. Allyn & Bacon–we use at the university where I teach). I like the idea of calling myself a radical moderate. I’m someone who firmly believes in taking the best ideas from wherever they lie on the political spectrum, sometimes combining them in new ways or creating new, out-of-the-box solutions altogether. Being moderate is absolutely not the same thing as being undecided or wishy washy or appeasing!

    I have been moved over the past few months to be vocal more about my ideas and pushing back on all of the posturing, spinning and outright lying. I made a point of being vocal, for instance, when our school district completely shut down President Obama’s education speech, in part because angry parents were terrified of the thought of him influencing our children in any way. Teachers were not even allowed to watch it in faculty lounges. Because people spoke up, the district changed course. We even made the New York Times (! I also speak up more on facebook and blogs, feeling that all of the partisanship is so often left hanging, unchallenged by reason or addressed with intellectual honesty. I confess I tend to lean a bit left of center. People in my neck of the woods probably think I’m a raging liberal, though I know some raging liberals and they are definitely not me! My political thinking is so much more complex than that!

  4. October 19, 2009 10:45 pm

    Margy: Good for you! The biggest danger posed by the extremists is their coercive attitude toward politics: everyone has to get with the program or else. This is true on the right (the hysterical parents who tried to ban Obama’s speech from their schools) as well as on the left (pressuring Glenn Beck’s sponsors to drop him). We’ve reached the point where people actually socialize only with their kindred ideologues. I had to laugh about a radio commercial I heard for “Conservative Tours.” I used to think only liberals were that clannish.

    Anyway, I’m glad you discovered The New Moderate, and I like your free-spirited approach to centrist thinking. (We need more moderates like you.)

    By the way… was I listed in the freshman comp textbook for “Words That Sell” or “The Cynic’s Dictionary”? I suspect it was the former, though I’d like to think it was the latter.

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