The moderate mind set is averse to drama. Moderates just want to work the problem.
One of the things that’s wrong about our public debates these days is the tendency for both sides to declare everything a matter of fundamental principles or basic rights. That makes it virtually impossible to find common ground because every compromise is seen as a betrayal. Anyone who admits that the other folks have a point is a traitor, to be shot at dawn, if only metaphorically.
The moderate approach is just the opposite. Moderates should strive to see every problem as mostly technical, something that can be worked out among people of goodwill. We should be very reluctant to see anything as existential. The more mind-numbing a debate is the better. We’re for boredom.
Let me offer three examples. One is an issue just decided, another currently being debated and a third example will never go away (unfortunately).
The first example is the just enacted Covid bill. There was no reason that it had to be $1.9 trillion. There was nothing magic about that particular number, except that it quickly became dogma for Democrats. Anything less and young children would be dying in the streets. Never mind that Congress had already authorized $4 trillion for Covid relief and that something like a quarter of that had not even been spent yet. Never mind that people like me don’t need a $1,400 check from the government. Never mind that states like Wisconsin, which is projecting a record surplus by the way, will now get another $2 billion for no apparent reason.
Sensible people sitting around a table with only the best short and long term interests of the country at heart, could have easily pared that down. I mostly blame the Democrats for this one. Ten moderate Republicans offered their own plan that weighed in at a still substantial $618 billion. They indicated that they might go higher, but the Dems were just dug in at $1.9 trillion, regardless of any pesky facts about actual need.
It’s hard to say if this will end up causing any real damage. It does run up the deficit and it does pose the risk of overheating the economy and reintroducing inflation as a problem Americans haven’t had to think about in a generation. But my point is that an effective bill could have been worked out to deal with the crisis while also reducing the hit on the national debt and the risk of inflation. We’re taking those risks now only because the Democrats were irrationally dogmatic about hitting an abstract number.
Next, let’s look at an issue still in play. I wrote earlier this week about the controversy over allowing transgender girls (which is to say biological boys) to participate in girls’ sports. Again here, both sides have drawn deep lines in the sand. For Democrats, this is about the fundamental civil rights of transgender girls, never mind that 300 male high school track athletes have better times than the world’s fastest female Olympic athlete.
But Republicans are saying that this will lead to the inevitable destruction of girls’ sports. That’s just not going to happen. We don’t even know how many biological boys are trying to compete as girls, but it doesn’t appear to be a widespread phenomenon. And, most importantly, the WIAA, the governing body for high school athletics in Wisconsin, already has sensible rules in place to deal with this. If those rules need some tweaking, well, okay. But, again here, if we just had people of goodwill who acknowledged the concerns of the other side and were dedicated to working things out in everyone’s best interests, that would happen.
Instead of anything positive happening here, it looks like the sides will just keep digging in. Liberals won’t budge because they insist on seeing this as a matter of fundamental rights. Conservatives see it the same way from the other side. It doesn’t have to be that way. It is that way only because people choose to see the issue in apocalyptic terms.
And finally, God help us, let me mention the issue of gun control, an issue not likely to be resolved in my lifetime. If I thought liberals were mostly wrong about the Covid bill and liberals and conservatives share the blame pretty much equally on the transgender athlete issue, let me award the prize for intransigence on gun control to the Republicans.
About 80% of Americans (and most gun owners) support some mild forms of sensible gun control, like universal background checks and keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people without criminal records. And yet these measures get blocked routinely because a tiny group of extremists hold the unsupportable position that Second Amendment rights are absolute. Yet, the Supreme Court –while I think it went too far in finding an individual right to bear arms — has never said anything close to that.
Democrats have been more than reasonable and willing to compromise on this issue and yet Republicans, terrified of the NRA, refuse to budge. There is only one word to describe these gun extremists: paranoid. And so, the bodies stack up.
Even after New Town, where twenty young children and their teachers were gunned down and then Vice President Joe Biden negotiated some reasonable legislation with reasonable people, the whole thing collapsed because of a relative handful of extremists. Responding to New Town was not a matter of fundamental Second Amendment rights; it was about working within the real rights provided under the constitution, and recognized by the Supreme Court, to craft some sane policies.
Covid relief, transgender issues, gun control. Those are just three issues on which the room for compromise was or is enormous. But where moderates see a Grand Canyon full of possibilities, ideologues can’t summon a sliver of daylight.
This is why we need to rebuild the American political center.