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The Moderate’s Utopia

November 7, 2009

We’ve arrived at last! Let me tell you about that happy land where the middle finds itself on top, where even the extremists speak softly and carry no sticks. Would a Moderate’s Utopia be a dreary bastion of complacent minds and mediocre achievements, as its opponents warn us? Would everyone just melt into a single lukewarm pot? Not in the New Moderate’s Utopia. Not if I have anything to do with it. See for yourself.

The Moderate’s Utopia.

The first thing you notice is that your world has been depolarized. Sure, we still have leftists and conservatives, blacks and whites, rich and poor, believers and infidels, elitists and populists, intellectuals and philistines, and those who disagree about whether toilet paper should be pulled over or under the roll. But they’re not going at it like cats and dogs. They’re comfortable in each other’s presence, debate their differences happily, listen with sympathy and carry no grudges.

Why? Because outspoken moderates have risen up and filled the vast opinion vacuum in the middle. That vacuum was dangerous. It meant that left-leaning and right-leaning individuals had no choice but to speak from the extremes, and to intensify their extremism as they bandied insults and invective. Everyone seemed to follow the “either/or” script: “either you’re with us or you’re against us.” It was a bunker mentality.

Now that the middle has a powerful voice, everyone is starting to see those wonderful shades of gray. (Not only gray, but intriguing variants of red, blue, purple and a whole Crayola box of other fine colors.) They’re beginning to see that disagreement isn’t necessarily cause for inflicting nasty bites. They’re even relying on moderates to mediate solutions to prickly problems like abortion, affirmative action, public healthcare, gay marriage, gun control and recreational drug use.

Moderates have their own magazines these days, and of course The New Moderate is practically required reading on the Web. (Now that I’ve ignited a fire under the silent middle, my job is essentially done; I’ve turned my creation over to moderate activists who care more about the nuts and bolts of political policy than I do.)

The Moderate Party now runs successful candidates for public office; it’s the first viable addition to the American two-party system since before the Civil War. Moderate-leaning Democrats and Republicans don’t have to feel like outcasts within their own parties; they simply defect to the middle. Now the Democrats and Republicans can cater to their own extremist bases instead of scrambling for moderate votes. We’ve made honest parties out of them.

Those skeptics who expected us to be safe, sober, middle-of-the-road compromisers often find themselves surprised by the intensity of our beliefs. For example, we moderates spearheaded the successful drive to criminalize the flow of money from lobbyists to Congressmen. This cause wasn’t especially popular with either lobbyists or their elected puppets, and it was definitely a radical departure from the status quo, but Moderate Party operatives helped push the bill through the House and Senate.  Now our elected representatives are actually obligated to represent the people who elected them. What a concept. As we “new moderates” like to proclaim, “extremism in the cause of moderation is no vice.”

Outside the political sphere, life is good for most of us. We’re more neighborly to our neighbors, because we no longer identify exclusively with the various special-interest “communities” that once polarized our society. Our community is where we live; nothing more or less. We make friends with people older and younger, richer and poorer, blacker and whiter, more liberal and conservative, smarter and dumber than ourselves. We’re like a good baseball club: individual players striving for individual excellence but also playing their hearts out for the team.

At work, talent and dedication are amply rewarded. CEO compensation packages no longer make a mockery of the average worker’s efforts, because average workers now sit on the boards and shape company policy. In the financial arena, the Crash of 2008 has thoroughly discredited naked greed as an investment strategy; as in the distant past, investors once again buy shares of a company because they like its prospects and want to see it succeed.

The Second Gilded Age is history, and bright young college graduates now aspire to be doctors and scientists instead of investment bankers. (It finally dawned on the big banks that employees whose whims nearly toppled the entire Western economy don’t really merit $20,000,000 bonuses. Today they earn approximately as much as tax accountants.) Liberal yuppies no longer have to feel guilty about their extravagant lifestyles, because their lifestyles are no longer so extravagant. Families can once again afford a night out at the movies or the ballpark, because top stars have stopped commanding $20,ooo,000 salaries. (Decent folks that they are, they’re embarrassed to have been earning so much more than their fans.)

We’re not a “nanny state” (after all, our government trusts grown-ups to make grown-up choices). But everyone, at long last, has access to affordable health insurance, and nobody has to live in fear of being bankrupted by illness. Medical costs have fallen sharply because doctors no longer have to live in fear of being bankrupted by malpractice lawsuits. (Funny, isn’t it, how the volume of lawsuits has dwindled in a more moderate, less vituperative society.)

Our best colleges and universities are once again centers of learning and inspired mirth; they’ve been liberated from the stern rule of the leftist ideologues who once made life difficult for dissenters. Sure, the ideologues are still around (where else would they find employment?), but students and faculty — even the moderates and conservatives who had been forced to slink around in the shadows — are free to express their own opinions now without fear of retribution. The various liberal arts departments are no longer propaganda mills catering to leftist prejudices. Because they promote pure learning and scholarship, their courses are once again overflowing with inquisitive students who want to expand their minds.

Under the wise and beneficent rule of the moderates, we no longer worship surly, degenerate rock stars, rappers and talk-show hosts. We’ve tired of their unfriendliness. But it’s not the 1950s, either. Since moderates don’t believe in coercion, genuine nonconformity is flourishing. Nobody is under any obligation to be cool or edgy in the same relentlessly snarky manner. Nobody is obligated to be extroverted, energetic, fit, upbeat or productive, either. Nobody is even obligated to be a moderate.

Well, some of us moderates believe in traditional virtues like character, kindness and decency, love of history and good-humored tolerance. We don’t impose our values on anyone, but we’re glad to see them making a comeback in the aftermath of the culture wars. For example, personal essayists are big now; readers appreciate their wisdom and whimsy. Our poets now write eloquent, memorable verse that actually makes sense to the average reader of English. Some of it even rhymes. Best of all, people find it inspiring, and they’ve once again started committing it to memory. All the better to impress their dates.

Should moderates aspire to such a perfect society or just let it go where it will? Is my utopia your utopia? Even it it’s not, you have to admit it’s a start.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2009 11:41 pm

    No comments yet? I’m amazed that even on a site for moderates, people showed more interest in the conservative and leftist utopias than in our own. (For that matter, they showed more interest in my Field Guides to the Left and Right than in the Field Guide to the Middle.)

    Are we moderates really so dull and nondescript that we bore even ourselves? (Not a promising sign if we want to compete with the extremists.) We need to get excited about being the next great political movement. That’s US, folks. Moderates represent the last hope of genuinely representative American democracy. We’re not just middle-of-the-road; we’re the CENTER. We have the power to push against the extremists, or we can roll over and let them continue to dominate all our public debates.

    Let’s hear from some of you radical moderates!

  2. November 11, 2009 12:21 pm

    Hi Rick,

    Sorry it’s about time that I came over from Moderate Thinking and got more active in the New Moderate. I’ll try to be better about it from now on…

    True, your utopia sounds…well…very realistic to me. Truly, it is nothing more than a more accepting version of the world we live in now. Think of the colors we are able to see when we don’t default to black and white!

    As for the Moderate political party, I wonder if, in a more accepting and open world, if it will even be needed. I can see both sides of the issue. There are basically three possibilities for Moderates in office. One, they are members of either the Democrat or Republican parties, and have some influence for change within their own ranks. Two, they become independent, which is dangerous ground, as it is hard to tie yourself to a platform. Three, the suggested third Moderate party. However, as being a Moderate has less to do with ideologies and more with policy methodologies, it would take a massive “re-education” of people currently used to the issue-stance-based evaluation mechanism of politics. Would that re-education be part of this utopia as well? How can that be brought about?

    Also, I am curious to how inter-party extremism will be tempered as well. Are you suggesting that there still be plenty of Moderates within the two major parties, as well as in the third party? What incentive will moderate Republicans or Democrats have to remain among their own ranks and try to anchor down the Extremist storm surges? I think it would be hard for many with political careers to consider, especially when a third party welcomes them with open arms.

    Just some thoughts. Keep it up!

    • November 12, 2009 1:11 pm

      Nils: Thanks for the admirably moderate insights. You’re right that a Moderate Utopia would essentially resemble a “more accepting” version of our world. But that would be a fairly dramatic leap for our polarized society.

      As for the prospects of a Moderate Party… I know that virtually all third-party movements since the Civil War have been marginal and often transient operations. The only real exception was Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 run as the Progressive candidate. (Now if only we could find someone as brilliant and charismatic as TR, we might have a prayer.) The reason I’m floating the idea of a third party now is that moderate Democrats and (especially) Republicans are becoming pariahs within their parties. Not only don’t they have any influence on their peers, they’re practically regarded as infidels.

      You must have read about the moderate-liberal Republican who ran for Congress in upstate NY: conservative Republicans abandoned her and ran their own candidate, who was promptly endorsed by a “Who’s Who” of nationally prominent Republican politicians and conservative pundits. The “official” Republican candidate actually withdrew from the campaign a few days before the election (I wonder who pressured her). Even though the conservative lost to the Democrat, the webmaster of actually exulted over the defeat of the liberal Republican and regarded it as a victory. In other words, he’d rather see a Democrat win the election than an “impure” Republican. That’s scary.

      In less polarized times, I might recommend that moderate Republicans and Democrats try to stay afloat (and yes, wield some influence) within their own parties… but it looks hopeless right now. A successful Moderate Party would be the only bastion of sane, non-extremist thinking on the American political scene. The operative word, though, is “successful.” What will it take?

  3. November 11, 2009 4:22 pm

    Yeah, I didn’t feel there was much to say on this post since, as a moderate, I don’t believe in utopia. I take the world as it is– filled with flawed people and institutions, myself included.

    I’m a bit cynical about the possibility of a third, moderate or centrist political party, although it’d be great to see a congressional moderate/centrist caucus emerge. The Blue Dog Democrats are one example and the small group of Main Street Republicans could each become more influential if they more formally teamed up. It’s a start, not just for a moderate, inter-party coalition, but for a long overdue re-assertion of congressional authority.

    Just a few thoughts.

    • November 12, 2009 1:21 pm

      Al: Regarding the Moderate’s Utopia: We can dream, can’t we? As utopias go, ours would be the least structured and most “liberal” (in the original sense of the word, meaning tolerant of differences). But you’re probably right: true moderates really wouldn’t want to impose their vision on the rest of society (or even on themselves).

      I like your idea of Blue Dog Democrats (how did they get that name, by the way?) and Main Street Republicans reaching across the aisle to team up on specific issues. If they find themselves teaming up with each other more than with their own party colleagues, we mightbe looking at the nucleus of a third-party movement. But at the very least we’d have some bipartisan cooperation in Congress, which we sorely need at this point.

  4. November 11, 2009 4:24 pm

    Incidentally, a similar thing happened on the Supreme Court in the late 90s with the centrists Kennedy and O’Connor (particularly the latter) becoming very influential members of the bench.

  5. November 12, 2009 9:30 pm

    I’ve always thought, as you have mentioned often as an alternative to an actual full-fledged party, that the right place to start is to focus on creating a desirable brand, a “stamp” if you will, which identifies true Moderates, Republican, Democrat or otherwise. Political action on behalf of Moderates, reputation building using internet or other advertising, even fundraising, etc. Ultimately, become a group with a reputation that is worth seeking by politicians. I would especially focus on lower-level political offices, including state governments and or US congressional seats. They get more bang for their buck and are often left out of the media spotlight…

    Part of the reason why I am also, like Al, a bit cynical about the emergence of a Moderate party is the tribal attitude which comes hand-in-hand with partisan politics. Many would-be Moderates feel to loyal to their party, and end up sticking with the D’s or the R’s simply because that’s where they feel it is most honorable to put their support. Even if a true Moderate party existed, would it be going against moderate principles in itself if one gave their support to the party first?

    Anyway, as for the Moderate “branding” issue, I’ve got some other thoughts that I have tried to push regularly on my blog. Maybe I’ll bring up some more in detail when the results of your poll come in.

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