Skip to comments.The moderate politician: friend or faux?
Posted on 09/10/2003 1:12:45 PM PDT by ancientart
According to Aristotle, the wise man strives always for moderation. In art and in life, he argued, The Golden Mean is best. Medieval theologians agreed, noting that temperance, one of the seven cardinal virtues, requires moderation in all things.
In politics especially, moderation is an important virtue. Barry Goldwater was wrong. Extremism in the defense of liberty may in fact be a vice: it may destroy the very liberty it claims to be defending.
One of the great strengths of America is that, through most of our history, weve avoided political extremes, choosing the path of moderation. In the first half of the twentieth century, for instance, one European country after another succumbed to extremist philosophies like Fascism, Communism, and National Socialism. But America retained its tradition of moderation: no totalitarianism for us!
The appeal to our moderate instincts is a perennial winner in American politics. In the 1900 presidential campaign, for instance, Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan spoke eloquently of the need for fundamental reforms to the American system. President McKinley countered effectively simply by urging caution. His winning campaign slogan? Leave Well Enough Alone.
Likewise in 1920, Warren Harding won a landslide victory with no more than the promise of moderation, Americas present need is not heroics, but healing, not nostrums, but normalcy, not revolution, but restoration, not surgery, but serenity.
Because moderation is so important to our political system, its important to know exactly what moderation isand what its not. First of all, moderation does not mean splitting the difference exactly between two positions. Aristotle pointed out that eating 100 pounds of food a day was obviously too much. Eating no food at all was obviously too little. It did not follow that eating fifty pounds of food a day was the moderate alternative!
Nor does the support of a majority necessarily make one a moderate. Most Germans supported Hitler. Most Italians supported Mussolini. And while the judicial restraint of Supreme Court justices like Scalia and Thomas may be out of the mainstream of current court practice, these justices are far more moderate than their activist colleaguesand far more moderate than swing voters OConnor, Souter, and Kennedy.
And here is a major source of confusion. American political institutions are increasingly dominated by those who (like Justices OConnor, Souter, and Kennedy) have no consistent core values at all. Calling themselves centrists or moderates, they unhesitatingly align themselves with whatever position is popular at the moment.
At first it seems a bit strange that such people are in politics at all. Whats the use of being elected and re-elected if you dont stand for anything? asked Grover Cleveland. Well, unfortunately, theres an answer to Clevelands question. One gets oneself elected and re-elected for prestige, power, and the ability to enrich oneself and ones friends.
This faux moderation has been seen plenty of times before in American politics, and its always the harbinger of corruption. The moderate politicians of the post-Reconstruction era paved the way for what has rightly been called the Era of Good Stealings. It should be no surprise that the current hegemony of centrist Democrats and moderate Republicans has brought with it a new wave of Tammany-Hall-style raids on the public coffers and pork-barrel spending at unprecedented levels.
True moderation would have the opposite effect. True moderation brings ambition and passion under the control of reason. True moderation involves the willingness to sacrifice power and position for the sake of ideals, not the sacrificing of ideals for the sake of position and power.
The true moderate is the man like Henry Clay who, when warned that his stand against slavery would cost him his chance at the presidency, replied that he would rather be right than president.
Now thats moderation. Accept no substitutes.
Moderate amounts of child abuse and molestation. Moderate amounts of treason. Moderate levels of murder. Ahhhhh.....the great moderation.....
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