Sunday, May 10, 2009

On Being a "Moderate" Republican

A few days ago, Mike over at The Big Stick, responded to an earlier post I made about "Why Moderate Republicans Matter." He responded and I wanted to tackle some of his points.

First as to his use of the word "moderate." Mike has expressed his distaste for the word, and did so using a Martin Luther King quote:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

After sharing that quote from the civil rights leader, he then shares his own words on the matter:

If there is a more damning case against ‘moderation’ I haven’t heard it. When I think ‘moderate’ I also think of inaction, fear and apathy. I think of someone whose primary goal is to not rock the boat and let change happen at a snail’s pace. From what I know of Dennis, none of those words can be applied to him. He is a guy who is trying hard to move us forward. So in my mind, even though I know he means something else, he is no moderate.

Now, words are not always the best descriptors of who someone is. Words are always inprecise. But it all that we have at times, so you have to make do with what you have.

The word moderate can have the meaning that Mike is suggesting: someone that is wishy-washy and really has no principles. But there are several meanings to this word and what meaning a person chooses, matters. According to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, there are six meanings of the adjective moderate and these include three that are important to this discussion:

  • 1 a: avoiding extremes of behavior or expression : observing reasonable limits b: calm, temperate

The third one is obvious: someone who doesn't have extreme beliefs. The second one lines up more with Mike's thinking, especially the second subset which talks of "having average or less than average quality." The word, "mediocre" is the exclaimation point of that meaning.

I am choosing the first one as what I mean by "moderate:" avoiding extremes in behavior and expression. But while they don't tend to be "radicals" in the popular sense, these are not the milquetoast persons that Dr. King was describing. One would do well to read the long list of biographies by Geoffrey Kabaservice on moderate Republicans. You would find someone like Thomas Kuchel, who led the fight for civil rights. That's hardly the "lukewarm" approach that Mike despises.

Moderate doesn't have to equal lukewarm, or coward. One can be a person of deep conviction and be considered a moderate.

The second issue here is Mike's issue of the fear of Centrists or Moderates having too much power over legislation since they make deals. Making compromises means ignoring what could be a better idea and instead fighting for it.

Okay, but that is basically the position we have now. In these days of polarized politics, we have sides that think their way is the better way. One side tries to block their other until nothing really gets done. It happened in 1994 with health care and in 2005 with Social Security among others. Maybe that's music to the ears of libertarians, but for those of us that want Washington to tackle various issues, it just leaves us frustrated. In earlier times, we were able to get landmark civil rights and evironmental legislation passed because of moderates who worked accross party lines.

It's the final part of Mike's post that is the part that bothers me the most. He suggests a better label for me:

For someone like Dennis who I believe is highly principled and inclined towards liberal positions at times, perhaps the label that is most fitting is ‘Independent’. My wife calls herself an Independent and for her the label is very fitting. She takes pretty conservative opinions on some issues and pretty liberal positions on others. Still on others she’s downright libertarian. Being an Independent doesn’t mean you have to look for the compromise position. You can cherry pick your issues and no one says a word. Of course the downside is that there are very few elected Independents in our government today.

I have a few issues with this.

First is that fact that I take issue with those who use that label. More often than not, they tend to be truly liberals or conservatives, but for whatever reason chose not to disclose their political persuasion. Far too often, I have seen or heard someone that stated they were an independent, but their speech reveals who they really are. There are a few true independents out there, but for the most part, the ones that I have met, just refuse to own up to their true nature.

Second, while being an independent sounds tempting and definitely an easier path for me, it is in the end, a poor choice. Being an independent affords no power. Since you don't belong to either party, you are not able to truly bend a political party to your will. The other thing is that more often than not, politicians tend to appeal to independents during elections with nice moderates words, then once they are in office appeal to their bases which of course, did all the heavy work in getting them to office. Indpendents tend to end up not getting what they wanted, because they are not actively involved in the process beyond voting. And in politics, you have to do a lot more than just vote.

But maybe the thing that bothers me the most is that for me, being an independent is the easy path. I don't have to worry about some crazy far right person calling me a traitor or not a real Republican. But in someways, again, in my own view, that is no better than the version of "moderates" that Mike doesn't like; someone who chooses an easy path instead of the narrow one.

The fact is, I became a Republican for a lot of reasons. It's the "family" I chose. I may not fit everybody's definition of a Republican these days, but then that's part of the problem, isn't it? We have narrowed who truly belongs in the party. I personally believe that the GOP should be a broad church kind of party, one that accepts different types of conservatives. As Joe Scarborough notes, we need to redefine conservatism and remember that a conservative is one that believes in what Edmund Burke preached: restraint, custom and convention.

So, I'm not leaving the party. I'm staying and will continue to be a moderate Republican. It's up to others to see what moderate really means.


Steve Nizer said...


This just shows how intellectually out of shape the GOP is. You don't have to 'prove' your Republican bona fides. If moderates leave in droves, as is already happening in the Northeast, the Democrats become that much more powerful.

Most of this criticism isn't original. It was probably heard coming out of Rush's mouth and repeated. Don't sweat it.

Mike at The Big Stick said...


I think you've visited my site enough to know that I may be a lot of things, but a mouthpiece for Rush I am not.

Ladybirddeb said...

If it wasn't for the qualifier "moderate," I am certain the I and droves of other Republicans would no longer choose to describe themselves as Republican at all. The two ends of the political spectrum extend beyond "Liberal" and "Far Right," to "Communist" and "Fascist." This is not an accusation but a statement of fact. It is ironic that some members of the Far Right would classify Moderates as RINOs because they think that we're "not Republican enough." The irony is that many Moderates consider those same "true" Republicans RINOs, because their ideology borders on fascism. The question is: How do we stop them from continuing to hijack the Republican Party? They're not strengthening the party; they're tearing it apart!