Monday, February 19, 2007

Who is a Moderate, an Extremist?

Every presidential election cycle we come to seeing these two words flung out and hung out and paraded about. Every candidate strives for the banner of moderation to be placed on themselves, and delights in calling their opponents all extremists. Americans themselves claim to dislike extremism and favor “moderation,” and most Americans describe themselves as moderate. But what do such terms mean?

In terms of means, almost all politicians are moderates. I would think anyone who would rule through constitutional means and established channels, could not be considered an extremist. Someone who wanted to rule through fiat, overturn the constitution, stage a coup etc. could be seen as an extremist in terms of ruling, but they could pursue a “moderate” agenda, just in a brutal or revolutionary manner.

“Independent” should not be confused with “moderate” this is a mistake that pollsters make too often when they say that most Americans are registered politically as independents. This label simply implies that the voter does not identify with a party. They may be revolutionary socialists, or reactionary fascists, or conservatives or liberals who like to think for themselves on political matters. And they may be moderates who don’t take a strong position on any issue, yet this does not mean we should see a third of Americans as being registered independents as a sign that they are all supporters of Moderatism.

The problem with being a moderate ideologically is that 1) there are numerous issues that don’t have a middle ground, and 2) they are committed to positions that seem extreme to people outside their belief system.

Examples of 1) include – Abortion, attempts to try and create a cut-off for when a woman can have one become subjective and open to dispute. In this case it pretty much is (as a question of rights, not implementation or of counseling and services) is it allowed or not. Divorce and marriage are either/or issues. With drugs it is the same, either its legal or illegal, baring some small exceptions for medical use. We either sign the Kyoto protocol or we don’t, we give a group the right to vote or we don’t, we go to war with Iran or we don’t (we can’t just bomb ‘em a little bit).

By 2) I mean that most moderates are small “l” liberals, believing in the major tenants of liberalism. In a system where most people characterize themselves as at least nominally being liberals (including most conservatives) it makes sense to see being a moderate liberal as being moderate overall. But in fact liberals of all stripes are extremists. They are extremists when it comes to property rights (ask the native Americans) and they are (thank God) extremists when it comes to civil liberties (or at least they are supposed to). Does this make liberals bad? No, it just means that they take certain defined political stands and that nothing will budge them out.

There are certainly liberal moderates, but if you examine the whole thing closely you find that they all hold a few extreme positions here and there and if you look at our greatest leaders, they were in fact extremists in a moderate guise.