Monday, July 16, 2012

Calling all moderates

In response to my last post, my arch-buddy and nemesis, Bear, who formerly blogged on blogspot as incorrect-bear (where, I might add, I was unduly solicitious and supportive as a commenter) again bashed my post over its head. He wrote: "You know sometimes in your attacks on partisanship you make it sound as though you are are the only non-partisan moderate in the world. 'The whole world is crazy but you and me and I'm beginnning to have my doubts about you' kind of thing. Not all people with opinions are blindly partisan. . . ." You can look back a week for his whole comment, which somehow referenced Casey at the bat.

I replied last week that (correcting here one embarrassing spelling error): "No, I don't think that at all. I know lots of non-partisans, but partisans may be a majority, and I do know a lot, although there are different levels. Even if they are not a majority, their noise level dominates the media and most issues. I am virulently anti-partisan. Again, not anti-ideology, but anti-partisan. In all the articles I have read about Roberts, I have not read one single description or defense of why he decided the way he did - not one. That says something."

Now, I admit, there was a little passive aggressiveness in this as Bear can't stomach my political posts. The last thing he wants is another one. Nevertheless, some people actually do like them (though don't ask me for a long list) and I mostly write these to entertain myself, and, to actually get to talk about things that interest me, which doesn't always happen with conscious audiences in non-virtual real life.

Let me first add to my comment. No, Iago, I do not think I'm the only political moderate at all. In fact, I know a number of moderates. Voltaire in mind, I will define my terms before I explain why I write about this stuff so much.

Firstly, what I don't mean by "moderate." I do not mean independent. The two are frequently paired (okay) and confused (not okay). There is a difference in my mind even if they are often found together in the same person and also both relative terms, as are liberal and conservative. An independent is someone who is not in general lockstep with a political party (like Democrat, Republican) or ideological movement (like conservative, liberal, etc.). It neither means that I have no values, ideals, positions or the like, nor that I am not not to the "right" or "left" of someone who is so connected on any particular issues. For example, I have friends, conservative who in almost every possible way, who are pro-choice, and although I couldn't describe myself as either classicly pro-life or pro-choice (both sides would probably claim I was of the other mindset), I am more against it than they are. Often when discussing someone else's politics with them, I am told that they tell me that they can't be liberal or conservative, because they believe X or Y, which is not a typically conservative or liberal position. Few people are 100% either. I know pro-choice conservatives and I myself was a military hawk when a liberal back in the 70s and 80s.  I go by a general feeling of their opinions known to me.

And, it's a fair question to ask - does it really matter what they are? Not really individually, but it does matter if too many people are conservatives or liberals.

What "moderate" actually means is a little harder. Deciding whether you are a moderate, or someone else is one is a feeling, like when the friend I call "Eddie" in these hallowed pages calls me a luddite. I actually do have a cell phone and a computer, and spend an awful lot of time on the internet and blogging. But, to him, who hardly ever looks up from facebook or every new app or gadget, I'm a luddite, because I don't like plasma tv's (I do not like seeing imperfections) and sold my free nook. Ironically, he, who has at times called himself a communist and once told me that Ralph Nader was too conservative, has also described himself as a modertate. By that I presume he either meant that although he believed in a relatively coercive big government, but didn't want them to actually kill anyone, or that he had a mild manner when discussing politics (which, being a very nice guy, he actually does).

Let me piss off Bear even more by "self-referencing," which he also detests (I don't know why - it is a blog about what I think). On August 28, 2011, I wrote:

"When I say 'moderate,' I do not mean that I see every issue in an equally balanced way or that every issue has two or more equally valuable views. It is a temperament. I mean that I am more than willing to try to understand the perspective of those I disagree with without disparaging them, questioning their character or even thinking them ugly. I believe, in fact, that all of the presidents in my lifetime, for all of their faults and all of their mistakes, meant the best for America, viewed from their own perspective. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t as biased as the rest of us, and willing to prevaricate and take steps to fulfill their own predilections.

It is this lack of moderation, I believe, which is both the cause and the effect of the biggest obstacles to the critical reasoning or analysis that would allow more rational thought to stem off many of the solvable problems that face us. It is the biggest obstacle to peace between members of a society and societies. The opposite of a moderate is a militant and what was known before the Civil War as a Fire-eater. It is necessary for the attitude we call “tolerance,” accepting others we consider different from us or whom we significantly disagree with. It is also a gateway temperament to learning, particularly things that might change or modify our opinion. As an old Chinese proverb held it - The value of a cup is in its emptiness (although my boyhood hero, Bruce Lee, disagreed)."

Biggest obstacles? Bigger than the argument over health care? Bigger than who will be president? Yes. Suppose, for example, that who you want to be president wins and that a majority of congress wants to put in your health care plan. And suppose, whether you are right or left, you are willing to make X changes to the plan to make the other side feel good. Could your president do anything that you wanted him/her to do? Could the healthcare plan get passed congress?

Probably not, at least not with a hell of a fight. Because even the most moderate plan is going to be attacked by the other side as extreme. I can't quote this John Adams comment enough:

“While all other Sciences have advanced, that of Government is at a stand; little better understood; little better practiced now then 3 or 4 thousand Years ago. What is the Reason? I say Parties and Factions will not suffer, or permit Improvements to be made. As soon as one Man hints at an Improvement his rival opposes it. No sooner has one Party discovered or invented an Amerlioration of the Condition of Man or the order of Society, than the opposite Party, belies it, misconstrues it, misrepresents it, ridicules it, insults it, and persecutes it . . . .”

He could have double underlined "I say Parties and Factions will not suffer, or permit Improvements to be made . . ." and it would not do it justice. And, by parties and factions, I mean the extremists in parties and factions. Worse, in these parties and factions, you are quite often judged by your peers as to how extreme you are willing to be. It's the reason that all of the eight debators up on the platform during the Republican debates earlier this year had to raise their hand and claim that they would not raise taxes even if - even if - there were ten times the amount in spending reductions to counter it.

The congress we have is not controlled totally by either liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans individually. But it is controlled by the two parties and ideologies collectively, and they will no more share the stage with independents or moderates than they will willingly share presidential debate platforms with third party candidates. You can't speak, at least not meaningfully, you can't get committee assignments, you can't do almost anything without one of the parties being your mentor. And, in order to get that, you have to caucus with one of them, even if you are an independent. The two parties control the rules that congress operates under (per the constitution), and have set it up so that the work done on committees is also totally controlled by them.

The gross petulance and stubborness of the two parties is best seen in each house by the change in the positions of the two groups every time there is a switch in power. When the other party takes over in the Senate, immediately they switch their positions on the propiety of using the filibuster to delay or stop legislation. In the House, it is the propiety of using the a "closed rule," that is, whether amendments will be allowed, that they will automatically switch positions on. And, they do this most of the time without any shame.

We need more moderates in congress (let alone the presidency). Let me give you an example why. One of the few things that most Americans agree on with that most controversial of subjects, abortion, is that partial birth abortion is wrong. In fact, most people feel this quite strongly, many even that it is an abomination. Since congress and the Supreme Court seem to believe that it is okay for congress to legislate about abortion, you would think that congress could craft a law where it would be completely illegal to do it (not just a certain procedure). They don't. The reason. Pro-choice advocates believe it will be used against them to further the idea that abortion can be banned. Pro-life advocates beleive it will be used against them to further the idea that some abortion is acceptable (other than partial birth). This, of course, is idiotic, but it is a result of extremists running our own representative nut house.

Here's another example. What are we to make of the Fast & Furious scandal. The scheme was stupid - no one denies that. And covering up is as natural to partisans as saying "like" every 15 seconds is to teenagers, whether pols have reason to do so or not. Certainly there is a possibility of a federal agent was killed with one of the guns that "walked," but it is far from clear that this was the gun used or that if not that one, they would not have used another. Of course, since when do gun advocates believe that guns kill people. I thought people killed people. On the other hand, Holder (of whom I am no great fan) and the administration may be covering up like madmen. The use of executive  privilege seems extraordinary in this circumstance, certainly since Watergate. But, just as with the assistant U.S. attorney scandal in the Gonzalez Justice Department, where the Bush administration just waited out their problems with Rove and Meirs, this administration may be able to do it too. But, all that aside, the real problem is the partisanship and the knee jerk reactions such that (virtually) all conservatives will believe there is some vast and horrible conspiracy (such as the Clintons' supposed murder of Vince Foster) and most liberals will be certain that this is just election year games (although some Democratic congress members did vote to hold Holder in contempt).

Or as another example, as if we need one, the revelation by the New York Times today that both candidates are requiring the news' media to allow them to revise all statements if they want to get access. Why is there no public outrage? - because public outrage only amounts to anything if the situation is so extreme that the public on both sides demands action (e.g., Nixon's resignation). Of course, this pales in comparison to the fact that, as usual, they are both in full demonization mode as Uncle Sam drives the bus off the evalovin' cliff.

One last one, just for fun. To avoid the debt crisis last year, congress decided on automatic cuts if a super-committee could not agree on them and bring it to congress for a vote. Once you saw who the parties put on the committee, it was a foregone conclusion that nothing would come of it. At least, for me it was foregone.

To get more moderates in congress, we need them to be candidates, and to be candidates, they will have to win primaries. And, who controls primaries with their passion and power. Not moderates, but extremists. While it is true that at least in the Republican Party, the last two candidates have been relatively moderate (McCain and Romney), they have both been pushed by the hardliners on the right to take positions that I for one do not believe they really hold on social issues. The other candidates (and it easily could have been Santorum if Gingrich had just given in) took positions which were every bit as partisan and extreme as those they accuse Obama of having. In fact, it is inconceivable that McCain or Romney would have succeeded at all if they did not at least give lip service to some issues where there is at least a de facto litmus test. Romney, who most conservatives consider at best a moderate (if not outright liberal), had to call himself "severely conservative."  On the left, the last two candidates have been deemed among the most liberal members of the Senate (Kerry and Obama), if not the absolute most liberal, according to their voting records.

I spend too much time commenting online in debate forums with partisans to think that they are the least bit reasonable. So many commenters just make the personal attack as their default argument and have a litany of automatic responses that just don't make much sense, which they have been trained by partisans in the media to make. It is one thing to say - "You are a liberal/You are a conservative" and another (wrong) thing to say "X is true/false because you are a conservative/liberal." The first is labeling, and can be true, false or a little of each. The second is always illogical.  You can reason with partisans all you like and you won't get anywhere. I bother to do it mostly to express myself, because I get some pleasure in that, but also to give hope and comfort to other moderates who write there (as I get from them). Commenters on blogs and websites don't have political power themselves, but they vote, and other people get strength and listen to them rave. In a sense, blog commenting is a microcosm of the partisan problem, which is essentially the political expression of argumentum ad hominem. There is nothing wrong with pushing for more rational debate in this world. It actually does get us somewhere eventually, even when we all disagree.

But, how will we get more moderates in congress if moderates do not push and advocate for them - and say and write even in little way that moderation is all right, that you don't have to be a conservative or a liberal - that they don't own all the arguments - that you don't have to be one or the other? We won't. It will take a ground swell someday, when the conservative and liberal power mongers push us to the brink of the cliff, to elect moderates independents into office. Okay, moderate independents who lean libertarian. You know, people who believe what I do.

So, yes, Virginia Bear, I am going to keep writing about partisanship, which, however much it is part of human nature, I believe can be tempered by reason, just like as a culture we've gotten past such things as killing each other over religion, or the worst aspects of racism. But not because I'm the only one in the world. Nor for a second do I think everyone who disagrees with me is partisan. Course not, silly. I may think they are wrong, but not always partisan.

Okay, let me have it.


  1. I am stunned, amazed, it is a travesty that you cast me as your "blog villain". I believe my comments are balanced, and there are as many compliments as complaints. Many times I have said "Bravo", or "well done, Frodo", and this is one. Other than painting me as one-sided, you are right on the mark. Your point is well made and, this is key, I actually stayed awake through the whole thing. There will be no backing off the self-referencing thing, as that is way too Hollywood for me. Other than that, you are on the money and it is unfortunate that no one in power cares. Interesting quote from the President Sunday, he said he underestimated how much, in Washington, politics trumps problem solving.

  2. All these years in politics, and he is just figuring that out? Like when George H. W. Bush got elected and said that he didn't realize how complicated everything would be.

    And, hey, I called you my "arch buddy and nemesis," so don't be so gosh darn sensitive. Besides, I love it when you beat me up and point out that I called Mickey Mouse - Mikey Mouse or do your
    sleeping symbols and such. It is the closest I will ever have to a proof reader and editor.

    And Me - too Hollywood? I doubt they'd let me in Hollywood. Like calling Paris Hilton low maintenance. Please.


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About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .