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A Moderate's Manifesto

I've never been a big fan of the two-party political system we live in, and hate being forced to side with one or another when, really, I have views that don't really solidify me in either category, and I have a feeling most people do.

Barney over at Bend.com, has come up with a great essay, asking why a middle-ground isn't formed, and gives ideas as to why it should (and can) work. Since he doesn't have a blog of his own, he's asked me to post here. It's a great read, and feel free to comment/debate at will (assuming my Web host doesn't blow before I move in a week or so).

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A Moderate's Manifesto

By Barney Lerten

A plague of both your houses. A pox on both your houses. To save any sense of community. To save ourselves, and a government that deserves better than permanent, in-bred hate and divisiveness.

I want a third party to vote for - not a new, out-there "wing" that's simply lefter than left, or righter than right, or on another plane of existence entirely. But smack-dab in the middle, where most of us live our lives, watching the rhetorical missiles fly over our heads (and sometimes land on them.)

And I want that option right now. Is that too much to ask?

How could such a notion - a party truly "independent" of the old ways - not succeed, in a time when Americans are so weary of the same old mudslinging, the same old "we're doing wonderfully, trust us" or "everything is going down the tubes" brand of electioneering? When another election year's arrival finds more and more everyday Americans sick and tired and washing their hands of the whole wrestling match?

We all know that the platitudes and the attacks from both extremes on the spectrum are equally untrue. And yet, nobody dares to declare that the extremist emperors wear no clothes, because we know the rejoinder will be: "You've got a better idea?"

Well, yes, I think I do. We're all in what's been called "the glorious middle" (and yes, sometimes muddle), and yet our newsprint, airwaves and Websites are filled with the century-old D-R status quo - who is up today is down tomorrow, throw the bums out and replace them with new bums for the other side to blame. Labels rule, when you stick them on the others and avoid them yourselves.

I desire - no, I crave a Centrist Party. A Moderate Party. Yes, that's right, Rush Limbaugh's most hated enemy - those whom he labels (as he labels all but the Wonderful Republicans) as Bad People, because they obviously can't make up their minds and see "the light" and "the right." They just don't see how conservatism is the One True Way.

Poppycock. We moderates, I argue, can make up OUR minds. We just don't like to have others make up our minds FOR us, to blindly subscribe to a platform or dogma that leaves little room for comfort. And maybe our answers to the "questions of the day" are simply to ask more questions, and to formulate a viewpoint that is subtle and not bludgeoning.

I come to this view as a reporter of some 25 years, who has always saluted and tried to live up to the notion of an objective story, one that tells both sides in fair fashion and lets the reader make up his or her own mind. And yet, that's not where we place our politics, or our government. We cheer our side and wish the worst for the others, and consider those not affiliated with either party someone too radical to fit in.

But maybe, just maybe, the "party faithful" are the REAL "radicals." And most Americans "settle" for being part of one party or the other, because that's what their parents were, or because of one or two issues that this or that major party is closest to your own views on, and you hold your nose (or cross the party line) when voting time comes, because you're not "really" an elephant or a donkey, it's just a place to park.

How about a third party you could believe in, without feeling as if you are compromising your beliefs? What a concept! It gives me goose-bumps just to think of it.

There's an old saying that those in the middle of the road get hit from both directions. I have come to respond: Not if there's a well-designed median. Then, you can go to EITHER side of the road, when it's in your best interest, and when it's safe to do so.

In other word, judge EACH issue on its merits, weigh all the facts, and then take a stand. One you can adjust, even reverse later - not if the mood strikes, but if the facts dictate. And with today's technology, here's a wild, even radical thought - this party could base ITS platform on an electronic vote/survey of the people in it! Not the full-time party professionals and pols! A platform that really IS a party's views? Wow!

That's not wishy-washy waffling. It's smart, effective flexibility. It's the way most businesses prosper, and the way we live our lives, but seemingly, never, ever the way we vote - or more precisely, one of the choices we are given. The "lesser of two evils" has become such a standard bill of election-ballot fare that we dare not think outside the box.

They talk of the "disappearing middle class," while I bemoan the "disappearing middle viewpoint." And I'm not so sure that the two aren't linked, in a way: We're either rich or poor, conservative or liberal, good or bad. Black or white, but never, ever gray.

Get real!

Today, declaring yourself a moderate gets you in more trouble, even, then the hated "L" word (liberal). The thorniest issues can only be resolved by meeting in the middle, through compromise, through debate on the ISSUES, not throwing mud on the person who disagrees with you at the moment. And yet, the middle has somehow become the new Third Rail of Politics, more scary than even touching Social Security!

How did we get here? I'm not sure, and I'm not sure I care. I just want out. And I bet, if the right person - not plastic-charismatic, but whipsaw smart - an Allan Keyes, without the right-wing tilt - someone who refuses to be pigeonholed, were to advance an agenda for a moderate or centrist party, he (or she) just might make the biggest change in American politics since the Whigs went away.

The political spectrum is no spectrum at all, any more. It's a two-tone, black-or-white, "fer' us or agin' us" ridiculous world of unreality. The "progressives" of the Democratic Party infuriate just as many party faithful as the "die-hard conservatives" of the Republicans, in their stubbornness and refusal to see the many shades of gray on just about every issue under the sun.

A two-party system in which the extremes hold the spotlight promote the fight, not the solution.

But try 'Googling' "moderate politics" or "centrist party," and a dry hole comes into view quite quickly.

Except in Sweden, where they have a moderate party - imagine!

Their document states: "For us, freedom has value in itself. It contains respect for each individual. Freedom for individuals and country is the starting point for renewal and development of Swedish society."

"The second pillar of our basic attitudes is responsibility; both for country and society. The right and ability of individuals to be responsible for themselves and their families."

"Moderate politics are built on both liberal and conservative ideas. Belief in freedom comes from liberalism. Emphasis on personal responsibility and respect for experience and tradition comes from conservatism.
The Moderate Party is an ideas party. We do not represent groups or special interests. But we do possess ideas on how a good society for individuals can be formed."

Oh, my goodness. How sensible. How rational. Is such a vision possible in America?

Yes, we are a nation born of a dramatic break from tyranny. Somehow, as we consider the notion, moderation in politics is worse than the extremism that fills our political discourse, in one key area - it smacks of weakness, or even, of boredom.

But I'm not speaking of saying "on the other hand" infinitum. I speak of a dramatically new vision, a centrist, moderate, middle-of-the-road vision. Where sensibility overwhelms the shouts.

When I speak with people about these notions, I hear their frustration over where our "extremists rule the microphone" brand of politics in recent decades have gotten us - the "rape the forest" vs. "damn tree-huggers," extended to every large and small issue. And I sense excitement at the idea that there just might be another way to govern, another way to make things better.

It relates back to my view that by and large, those who vote against funding measures for government do so in large measure based on misinformation about what government does - hearing far more about the obscene, isolated $1,000 screwdrivers, and far too little about the quiet, everyday way government helps people who need and deserve the help, and does far more right than the critics ever will mention.

We want government to run like a business, but government, in essence, does a lousy job at PR - a cornerstone of good business. And so, the shrill voices drown out the daily reality of where our public dollars do public good.

Because black-and-white, us-vs.-them radio and TV hosts are far more entertaining than someone who quietly, yet passionately tries to find common ground. A moderate talk-show host? If they exist, I'd love to meet them, better yet, to hear them.

It's not, by the way, wrong to want more efficiency in government, and to press for that, at all times. But let's not kid ourselves that we can find a magic spot of efficiency that all will agree on. Let's take on the hard issues, and the incremental solutions, using the well-known tools to make steady progress.

Moderation in politics, to me, is about speaking, and debating, not shouting and finger-pointing. It's about moving on from the age-old trappings of political machinery (platforms and conventions and precincts of red and blue), into a brave, new world of sanity.

It's about stopping the flag-waving as a political tool, or pointing at "special interests" as if we're not ALL special interests, who can have quite an impact, if we band together and demand a better level of discourse from our elected officials.

It's about moving on from arguing who's whiter or blacker, and to judging the many shades of gray that are part of real life.

Both the Republicans and Democrats have much to lose from a significant third party that doesn't isolate itself in some corner of the political spectrum, but simply argues that there IS a spectrum, and that being in the center is a grand, glorious, even logical thing, and not something to be ashamed of.

The litmus tests would come from both sides, for a moderate candidate. And for those "true believers" at the extremes, the "wrong" answer on any of those litmus-test issues, be it abortion or gun control, gay marriage or the latest war, would bring claims that this candidate/party is "really" a ------ in sheep's clothing.

Pardon me, but Americans under the extremist-ruled two-party system have BEEN the sheep - if not the lemmings, who hold their nose as they fill out their ballots, hoping for a saner choice.

But a moderate party would be the TRULY inclusive party. One that strenuously avoids the segmentation, and focuses on what unites all of us. Not rah-rah patriotism, but a love of the freedom and opportunity our country stands for. Nothing more, or less.

Rather than a party full of waffling nebbishes, people who dared to proclaim themselves as moderates might be viewed as the bravest, most courageous political activists of all - knowing full well that they are likely to get dumped on and attacked from BOTH sides, for daring not to see things "right." (Or "left.")

Asked what they stood for, they'd be able to argue, quite confidently, that they stand for every American's innate ability to judge issues and make decisions on their own, and not to buy the clichťs and labels and cynical, snap-judgment solutions that both parties have espoused down through the decades.

They would be the scariest type of politician - unpredictable. One you couldn't automatically count and stick in your hip pocket, for the next time a favor is owed.

Democracy, it is said, is messy, and making laws is as ugly to witness as making sausage. But if a major, moderate third party that strives for middle ground and common ground were to create a "mess" in the world of politics, pray tell on Capitol Hill - wouldn't that be a grand, glorious day? Holding both Republicans and Democrats' feet to the fire, puncturing their balloons of rhetorical garbage, and spurring them toward real answers to the problems of today?

The mathematics, indeed, would be messy. But oh, what a glorious mess it would be!

I showed a friend whose views I respect a draft of this piece, and he said, "Really, I'm a moderate, but a third party would never work." Why, I wonder, do so many believe that - that they could support a moderate movement, but not enough others would to make it happen? Is it because the current, two-party system has the deck stacked against such potential threats?

It seems to me that both the Democrats and Republicans are only sharply defined in whom and what they are AGAINST, namely, the bad people on the other side of the fence/aisle. When it comes to what they are for, in large part, they are both for what we all are for - a strong, safe America, a strong economy, etc. etc. But they waste so much of their - and OUR - time and energy on fighting the other side, that very little time is spent on SOLVING the issues, as opposed to staking out positions and trying to make the other side look bad.

Maybe my notion has too much common sense going for it to succeed. If so, that's pretty sad. Yes, I know that one problem is the "Nader effect" - you could have a well-meaning third-party candidate who, mathematically "hands the presidency" (or congressional seat, etc.) to the "worse of the two (major party) evils." I think whoever is involved in such a party would have to weigh on their own whether they need to put their support behind that "lesser of evils" candidate, to prevent that from happening.

Again, we're talking flexibility and not rigid rules and dogma that hamstring more than they mirror our country's freedom.

How about a REAL "other choice" for a change? One that doesn't spend its time tearing down both parties, but instead says, "here's another way to look at this issue, another way to govern our state, our country"?

Heck, I'd go as far to say that such a moderate or centrist party shouldn't fool itself in terms of thinking of ways to "amass power" or "gain control" of seats or legislatures, but instead, to have an impact on the debate, with or without elected representation. A party of ideas and principles, not of "party hacks" and "oppo teams."

I may be hopelessly naive, but it wouldn't be seen then as a threat. Instead, the collective voice of many people who want to move beyond the "us vs. them" diatribes of the past, and who want to put their vote behind their views, that we're all in this together and it's time we started acting like it.

Disagreements are fine, welcomed and a part of life. But they shouldn't dominate the discussion. And a "balance of power" doesn't necessarily HAVE to mean "one party in power, the other scheming to take that power away."

We can move beyond that, if we really want to. Into an even more messy - yet far more participatory, enlightening and, yes, interesting - democracy.

The two parties that we have come to think of as part and parcel of our governance system are not written into the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights or the Constitution. The status quo CAN change, for the better. All it takes is the will to get there.

Heck, the media should drool over the idea of another potentially powerful political party, ponying up dollars for ad space and air time. But in the world of the Internet, e-mail, blogs, etc., those who run the media could NOT prevent a third party from amassing support, starting at the grassroots, a la' Howard Dean - if it has a rational, even logical message worth hearing, and worth supporting.

What say you? And where do we start?

Posted by Jake on 02/29/04 @ 03:13 PM
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