Two Years of Radical Moderation
As I sat down with my laptop this morning in a fiercely air-conditioned cafe, arms and legs shivering in the artificially induced Arctic climate, it occurred to me that today marks the second anniversary of The New Moderate as a more-or-less regular blog.
Two years ago this July, I launched myself into the blogosphere as a radical moderate, a new moderate — a moderate so confoundedly exasperated (not to mention alarmed) by the extremist rhetoric gushing from the left and right that I was eager to discard middle-of-the-road pleasantries in favor of something resembling passion. (Yes, Virginia, there IS passion in the middle.)
It was time to swap our traditional namby-pamby image for something more heroic and even militant. Yes, we’d still be civil as well as civilized. But there would be no more compromising, no more selfless consensus-building, no more Mr. Nice Moderate. The extremists were squeezing the center out of existence, and we needed to fight back. The middle had to prevail for the good of the republic.
This diehard centrist would settle for nothing less than a rebellion of the middle — a great awakening among that vast, silent, good-naturedly accommodating mid-region of the American political spectrum. It seemed that nobody listened to us (including our fellow moderates), though our views were the most sensible, the fairest, the most inclusive, the most finely nuanced and least distorted of any in the great marketplace of ideas. It seemed that nobody even respected us: we were widely and unfairly perceived as spineless, indecisive, unwilling or unable to take a stand.
I resolved to change all that. We needed to gain a voice, preferably a loud one, to awaken the slumbering moderate giant and win converts.
What did the world look like in 2009? Well, pretty much the way it looks today. The left ruled the cultural and intellectual roost, as it had since the ’60s and even earlier. But now they ruled with an oppressive hand that tolerated no divergence from the approved pieties. The left was turning America into a patchwork of insular special-interest groups whose allegiance to their own “communities” trumped everything else. Blacks, gays, feminists and even NPR liberals each had their own well-defined cultures, taboos and political priorities. Anyone who went off the reservation would know the sting of excommunication.
At the same time, we were emerging as a full-fledged plutocracy: unregulated corporatism had widened the gap betwen the rich and the rest of us to Gilded Age proportions, and big-money interests had effectively made marionettes of our elected representatives. (Money has always displayed a sinister genius for pulling strings.) The reckless antics of investment bankers, CEOs and their political handmaidens were endangering the survival of the middle class.
Meanwhile, the right had managed to bamboozle a hefty segment of the middle class (particularly the struggling lower middle class) into believing that its interests were identical with those of Wall Street. Lyrically bloviating on the virtues of patriotism and self-reliance while portraying government as the embodiment of evil, radio pundits like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh sparked a grassroots ultraconservative movement that only reinforced the power of big money to run (and ruin) our lives. Glenn Beck was just entering his short-lived heyday, morphing from an artfully wacky radio entertainer into a mad prophet of doom.
In short, this was the perfect moment to launch a new blog for disaffected moderates.
I’ve had plenty to say during my two years as a radical moderate blogger, despite my saying it only once a week at most. I’ve let the dedicated news junkies cover the daily drizzle of events; I prefer to wait until an issue grabs me by both ears and gives me no choice but to rail about it from my pulpit.
Here are just few of the issues that have grabbed my aural appendages during the past two years:
Racial tension in “postracial” America, especially during the overheated summer of 2009…
The upstart Tea Party juggernaut of 2010, an acute political inflammation that’s slowly subsiding for the moment…
The dangerous marginalization of moderate politicians within both major parties…
The spectre of literally endless war in remote Muslim nations…
Illegal immigration and the long-term consequences of a burgeoning Hispanic presence in America…
The riddle of Barack Obama, a brilliantly charismatic and progressive campaigner who emerged as a surprisingly lackluster (and just as surprisingly moderate) president…
The ongoing transformation of the U.S. into a plutocracy with the unwitting cooperation of the American people (We could have used a riot or two on Wall Street)…
The disturbing deterioration of our national soul as we’ve splintered into multiple self-interested subcultures…
And, of course, that fat gray elephant taking up half the room: the lingering Great Recession that started with the bank meltdowns of 2007-8 and officially ended nearly two years ago (yeah, right), though it continues to spread its gloom and its dull poisons throughout the land…
So here we are, two years later — and America is a mess. We’re in hock to the tune of $14 trillion (that’s just about $46,000 for every man, woman and child in the U.S.), and none of our national eminentoes can agree on a remedy. Jobs are being eliminated, outsourced to foreign lands and otherwise hidden from us commoners on an unprecedented scale. Homeowners are sinking under the burden of their mortgages while real estate values still unravel. Unemployed and self-employed Americans impoverish themselves paying for health insurance — or risk bankrupting themselves if they get seriously ill without it. Tuition at private colleges and universities — the unofficial gateway to the upper middle class — has become prohibitive for all but the rich — and, of course, poor students on scholarships.
The middle class is splitting like a great ice sheet: a small but select sector of well-educated, well-connected individuals drifting upward, everyone else drifting downward. We have welfare for the poor and welfare for the rich (billionaire hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than their clerks), but the middle class is left to wither on its own. And that makes me angry.
What have I accomplished in my two years as a radical moderate blogger? Not enough. There’s been no moderate Great Awakening to speak of; the vast American middle is still absorbing its daily punishments in silence. My columns have scarcely made a blip on the national radar, though my traffic continues to grow like a young oak tree: give me another half-century and I might start to cast a shadow.
I’ve been heartened by the rise of a lively centrist blogosphere over the past two years. I’d like to think my outpourings of unorthodox moderate punditry emboldened my political soulmates to start sounding off on their own, but it’s a safe bet that I had little or nothing to do with their efforts. What I’ve especially enjoyed is the brash, impetuous tone of so much of the commentary; these aren’t your buttoned-down, inoffensive Jon Huntsman moderates… they think from the gut and don’t shrink from controversy. It’s pleasant to know that there’s actually a market for radical moderation.
For a blog with relatively modest traffic, my posts have generated a slew of comments. My biggest surprise has been the lack of invective from right-and left-wing readers. (I had expected to be bombarded, the way I am when I comment occasionally at HuffingtonPost.)
Instead, I’ve grown accustomed to taking heat — mostly good-natured, sometimes testy — from my moderate readers. I’m a closet leftist, they tell me when I inveigh against corporate America and Wall Street. I’m too conservative on social and cultural issues, some of them will insist when I gripe about illegal immigrants or contemporary art.
That’s exactly as it should be, of course. My mission as a radical moderate is to discover where we’ve tilted too far to the right or left, grab the wheel and tilt us back toward the center. Sometimes that tilting requires strenuous and radical remedial action.
Being a moderate, after all, doesn’t necessarily mean defending the status quo; it means standing up for values that balance right-wing faith in the individual with left-wing concern for the unfortunate. It means achieving the greatest good for the greatest number instead of catering to special interests, no matter how noisy or well-entrenched they might be.
America today is seriously out of balance, both economically and culturally. We’re losing our way, and we’re in danger of losing our greatness. That’s why our embattled republic needs its radical moderates, now more than ever. Though I’m sometimes tempted to jettison the political Sturm und Drang for more congenial and remunerative pursuits, it’s safe to say I won’t be going away anytime soon.
I hope you won’t, either. In fact, let me thank you immoderately for contributing to the success of The New Moderate as an oasis of political sanity in troubled times. I couldn’t have done it without you.