Meeting In The Middle? Where’s That?

With the Biden-Harris team in the White House, Republicans and pundits are sanctimoniously insisting that “unity” requires “meeting in the middle.” The use of that term–“the middle”–reveals a significant misunderstanding of the definition of moderation and the process of compromise.

It also drives me nuts.

A friend recently reminded me of Jim Hightower’s observation that  there’s nothing in the mIddle of the highway except a yellow stripe and dead armadillos.

What is “the middle” between belief in QAnon and adherence to the Constitution? What’s the “middle” between White Supremacy and effective civil rights protections? Between accurate reporting and propaganda? Between protecting the rich and feeding hungry children?

What, exactly, is this magic “middle”?

I have referred previously to the Overton Window. That window is the range of public policies that are widely acceptable to voters at a specific point in time. The window does shift–perhaps the most vivid recent example is same-sex marriage: thirty years ago, efforts to recognize such marriages were virtually unthinkable; today, a majority of Americans approve of them. 

Shifts of the Overton window illustrate how our concepts of both the “middle” and what constitutes moderation change.

During my adult lifetime, the Republican Party has steadily moved to the right, pulling both the Democrats and “the middle” along with it. Today–and I do not intend this as hyperbole–the GOP is located somewhere between radically reactionary and insane. The fact that members of this incredibly retrograde party consider contemporary Democrats “far left” is meaningless–next to today’s GOP, my conservative grandmother would be far left. Political science research confirms that America’s most “left-wing” politicians are not nearly as “left” as most Europeans who fall into that category.

Which brings me back to the calls of well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) observers for “middle ground,” “bipartisanship,” “moderation” and “compromise. “

Bipartisanship can be achieved whenever members from both the GOP and the Democratic Party agree on a policy. The House vote to impeach Trump a second time was bipartisan, because ten Republicans voted yes. The term is  simply descriptive, although it tends to be used to suggest that bipartisanship equates to virtue. It doesn’t. If members of both major parties voted to deprive Muslims of citizenship, the fact that the vote was bipartisan would not  magically make it  virtuous. Plenty of racist laws have been passed with bipartisan support.

Compromising requires good-faith negotiation over points of honest contention. For example, Biden is reportedly willing to compromise with lawmakers over his COVID package by acceding to (quite reasonable) requests that stimulus payments not go to high-income families. Compromise in order to make at least incremental progress on an issue–rather than intransigence preventing any progress at all– is usually positive, but if by “compromise” we mean the evisceration of a good policy in order to accomplish an empty victory, not so much.

It depends on the compromise.

Moderation is defined as the absence of extremism. Unfortunately, given how insane the GOP has become, most media outlets automatically label any Republican who isn’t a QAnon believer or Big Lie promoter a “moderate.” Her vote to impeach Trump was correct and even admirable, but it did not make Liz Cheney a moderate.

Bottom line: the search for a “middle ground” is only reasonable when the parties involved in a particular dispute are rational, intellectually honest and operating in good faith.

These current calls for middle ground, moderation and bipartisanship remind me of Rodney King’s famous plea: “can’t we all get along?” That desire to “get along”– to be generous and civil and non-confrontational– is incredibly appealing. It resonates because so much of our public life right now is so rancorous and ugly. Believe me, I understand where it comes from. 

But permit me an analogy:

When your two-year old has a tantrum because he wants two cookies that he shouldn’t have, you don’t mollify him by finding “middle ground.” You don’t reward the outburst by giving him one cookie.  Your obligation as a parent is to help him mature into an adult who understands that inappropriate behaviors will not get him even a portion of what he wants.

There are a lot of two-year-olds in today’s QOP, including  most obviously the former President. The rest of us should tune out the screaming and crying and help the few who seem capable of it to grow up. “Meeting in the middle”–when the middle is halfway between sense and nonsense– is as bad for public policy as it is for parenting.

There’s a reason we don’t negotiate with terrorists.


  1. Thank you for the reference to QOP, which is far better than GQP because there’s nothing “Grand” about the party if there ever was. I had a (tough) conversation yesterday with someone who felt the burden of achieving “unity” falls entirely on Biden and Democrats.

    I argued that we can’t even begin to compromise on policies until we can experience a shared reality. The divide in our country today isn’t between R’s & D’s. It’s between people who believe The Big Lie and the people who believe The Big Lie is what it is – a big lie.

    Until the believers change their beliefs or go away over time the only way to get anything done in Washington is for Dems to dominate the QOP and for the non-Q R’s to regain control of their party. And to do that we must have HR1/SB1 passed and signed into law. Trumpism is not magically disappearing – the stakes cannot be higher.

  2. There is no middle, there is no moderation and there must be no compromise in the outcome of this 2nd Donald Trump impeachment. The future of this country is in the hands of 50 Republican Senators who either support him or are too cowardly to publicly vote against him. In the next few days we will know if America is back to stay! and Democracy is back to stay! or if this government will be open to dictatorship by Trump and others to follow him.

    There is no middle, there is no moderation and there is no compromise in the case the House Impeachment Managers are putting to the Senate and to the American public. They are trying to protect all Americans, including those 50 Republican Senators who are doodling, reading or playing with their cell phones as films of themselves being protected during the insurrection are being shown.

    I believe we know the outcome; it is to be feared as we relive the past 4 years culminating in the January 6th insurrection. Where is the “middle” of life in fear under a dictatorship? We had to come to this level of terrorism from white Americans to learn this government has no preventive laws against domestic terrorism.

    “There’s a reason we don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

  3. Hawley and Cruz have both said that there is nothing new here. If they represent the “mainstream” of Republicans, then compromise is out of the question. To Republicans, unity and compromise means: “Do it our way, or you aren’t compromising.”

    The reality is that the idiots running the Republican reactionaries are handing a branding, messaging and framing gift box for 2022. If they don’t pound and exploit the foibles of the seditious caucus and take FULL control of both houses of Congress, our democratic republic will teeter on the brink of fascism. The goon squads running the Republican state houses must be shown as the anti-Constitutional hypocrites they are; we’ve seen that Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin Republicans want to end the vote for the sake of their grip on power. That pretty much describes fascism and the whores of reactionary-ism, Hawley, Cruz, McCarthy, Greene, et. al., are the equivalent of Hitler’s National Socialists.

    How can rational people not locked up in padded cells not see that?

  4. As most of you know, one of my favorite short stories is Mark Twain’s “The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut.” Spoiler alert! In the story, the protagonist learns just how easy it is to dispose of one’s conscience. I would recommend the story to all of the Republican Senators currently sitting in judgement of the former President, but it seems they are already too familiar with the process.

  5. I would believe that if an election is won by a majority vote, they have a mandate, and the political capital to enact policies that they’ve run on! Unfortunately, the electoral college allows a minority to push their agenda on the majority! That’s no middle ground at all, and, that’s undemocratic!

    In an election if a majority of those who have voted agree with a specific agenda, why does there have to be a middle road? Why does there have to be a meeting in the middle?

  6. Time for talking is short. First look at the 2022 Senate elections: 34 seats are up. All 3 major national organizations rate them today as follows: 15 races as Safe/Solid Republican and 10 as Safe/Solid Democratic; 4 races as Toss-up or Democratic advantage; 5 races as Toss-up or Republican advantage. Do the math. DEMS have to take 7/9 of those in play or….Mitch is back!

  7. I just heard on NPR that a majority of Republicans believe political violence is a viable option and that many of them are white evangelicals. I am not suprised that white evangelicals are a part of this insanity because they read the Bible like a 6 year old and do not use critical thinking when they read it.

    If the Republicans do not vote to impeach Trump( they probably will not), then they are complicit in the belief that political violence is a viable option.

    There is no way “bipartisan” bills can be passed in Congress when Republicans are complicit with Trump’s attempt to overthrow the election of Biden.

    Democrats need to stick together come 2022 and find political campaign strategies that will help them maintain the majority in both the House and the Senate. Perhaps some of that strategy is repeatedly talking about the Big Lie that Republicans are supporting.

    And in the meantime, I am wondering what Republicans are going to do to excorcise Trumpism from the party.

  8. This is excellent. As they used to say about Henry Kissinger, if he saw you drowning 100 feet from shore he would throw you a 70 foot rope and say he’d met you more than halfway. Today’s GOP isn’t even thst generous.

  9. Here’s the problem with bi-partisanship. What’s would news shows and cable entertainers have to broadcast? It would destroy an entire profession. Without partisanship, the only thing left for broadcasters is weather and they are already out of new ways to look worried about the weather.

    There is of course news of the part of the world that’s not the United States but that’s expensive to cover and explain and frankly we only care about ourselves.

    No, crazy politicians are good business (if terrible government), the crazier the better.

    When I was growing up and shopping with my mother (never my father) I would marvel at the tabloids screaming headlines in the checkout line. I thought after a while, what an easy reporting job that would be. You’d never have to leave your desk or answer the phone, you could enjoy fiction writers mental solitude. Now that we rid the world of slow-paced and moved those screamers to 24/7 entertainment and social media they have to actually say many, many words every day and the males have to frown a lot and the females never. They need those jobs.

    No, bipartisan may be effective government but the economy counts for more nowadays if we are going to consume more and more every year and keep the wealthy as royalty.

  10. My Dad, Leslie Duvall, always said, “ the middle,of the road is determined by where the curbs are”. Democrats have attempted to move toward Republican notions of regulatiion through tax breaks and market-based solutions since at least Clinton. Republicans have not responded symmetrically toward justice and equity, but by eliminating the parking lane on their side of the street, and letting the curb crumble.

  11. Wish I had this yesterday. It is my screed to a Facebook friend done well. The only thing I would argue with is that any compromise on targeting payments must be based on 2020 incomes. Here in Juneau there are gracious plenty people/families who earned wads in 2019 but near nothing in 2020 due to pandemic ravaging all of our income-producing tourist/cruise ship industries as well as every business that depended on those high-earning folks’ money to support their endeavors.

  12. The religious aspect of this cannot be understated. Now, that doesn’t mean that the GOP is any more religious minded, it’s just that they’re able to use it to their advantage!

    One thing that I found fascinating is that scripture speaks of those religious groups that mingle in the political realm for power and authority over their fellow man, it refers to those religious groups as harlots or prostitutes! And, eventually that becomes an issue with those with the power. They would rather not be bothered with all of the drama that comes with this association.

    I would venture to say the more the Evangelical patriotic Wing reveals itself, the more Glory it’s taking away from those with the political power, leading to an exacerbation that will more than likely end in those religious groups demise.

    We’ve talked about the parallels between this Capital insurrection and the reichstag fire and how this current administration and the GOP tried to claim it was a false flag operation just like the reichstag fire! Unfortunately, the false flag operation was a right wing insurgency in Germany, and laid the blame on the left wing communists leading to their extermination. Here, the right led the insurgency into the capital and tried to lay the blame on the left wing black lives matter and antifa which of course are lumped in with socialists and communists. Identical course of action, coincidence? I doubt it. But, religion had a a huge role to play in the German reichstag fire just as they had in the capital insurrection here. Catholics and Protestants who went along with the program had a huge price to pay eventually. And, it absolutely will happen here!

    The politician used the religious prostitutes for their pleasure and power, and to manipulate the weak-minded into thinking their course of action was divinely anointed. But when this becomes untenable to the political realm, the cutting off of this relationship is going to be dramatic and awe-inspiring, and there’s going to be a great sadness amongst the people, as they’ve been manipulated from the start because of their own stupidity.

  13. David Duvall; that middle of the road is always a gamble. As Kenny Rogers said it, “You have to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em; know when to walk away and know when to run”. Anything involving today’s Republicans is a gamble and this 2nd Trump impeachment is the biggest gamble we have taken against their Trumpist party.

    I especially like your Dad’s comment; “ the middle,of the road is determined by where the curbs are”. We all know the GOP has no curbs or we wouldn’t be in our current situation.

  14. Lester – The world is composed of moving targets. Take your quote of expert opinion on the likelihood of a Democratic or Republican Senate after the election of 2022, for instance. Such predictions assume that there will be a viable Republican Party which has not returned to Whigdom and has not yet been torn asunder by internal discord between Trumpists and Never-Trumpers. See the Lincoln Project, Liz Cheney, Ben Sasse et al.

    Thus “Safe” Republican senate seats may turn blue if Trump removes his base from the Republican Party and starts up his own Know-Nothing Party aka Patriot or Freedom or Whatever Party, and if so we Democrats will be the political beneficiaries of the brawl between establishment Republicans and delusionary Republicans. Presto! A blue Senate!

    Of course such a possibility is subject to the moving target test, too, so it is best to assume the worst and run scared (and hard) as though some gran detente had been reached between the warring factions of the Republican Party even while remaining alert to such a possibility or yet some other political situation we cannot yet know as we grind forward to 2022.

    One thing in this world of change is constant: Mitch with his pocketing of hundreds of House-passed bills has taught us the importance of Senate control, not to mention the Senate’s role in the impeachment process, confirmation of judges, executive officers etc., hardly the kinds of powers we can hand over to the openly seditious Cruzes and Hawleys of this world if we are to have a small d world of our own. So it’s Bastille Day – every day. . .

  15. Prior to unifying, we should first try to learn to speak the same language. “Compromise”, for instance, one of the assumed and up to now constant pillars of democracy, is out of vogue with Republicans. Their constituents see compromise as giving in to the godless Satanic child-eating democrats and will not entertain the idea on any subject worth mentioning. “The rule of law”, the most basic principle of democracy, has fallen to the beliefs of know nothings who see violence and power as their touchstones. “Authoritarianism”, anathema to any thinking person who does not subscribe to the notion of infallibility, seems to have been accepted by Republicans as an acceptable way to run a country. “Government for the people” has taken on a new QOP meaning implying those people who agree with me, those who want guns to be less restricted, those who think god will save the planet, and those who subscribe to brutality as a technique for dealing with political differences.

    Forty-five senators see nothing wrong with having their government and their lives threatened by a mindless mob bent on changing the results of a demonstrably fair election. Isn’t that a form of insanity? How does one even begin a conversation when one side cannot conceive that some degree of truth lies on your side of the argument? Is there a point to trying? And how does one go about conversing with those who idolize Donald Trump, a certified sociopath whose inattention and lack of empathy contributed to the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans? A man whose continued rule would have distorted and deformed our country beyond redemption? These people are so self-deluded and irrational that it would be hopeless to attempt to engage then in a productive discussion. They are to be pitied and excluded from every decision making position where they may wish to apply the Trump principle of “only-my-whims matter” to achieve victory. That serves no one and fixes none of the problems which our government was created to address. They must be voted out, discredited, and left to further rot as pollutants on the trash heap of political history. That still leaves a couple of hundred million people to rise out of the Trumpian ashes and work to put America’s head back on straight.

  16. American terrorist: a person legally born in the lower 48,preferably,the bible belt. white sheets and plege allegence at birth place. educate in a rural sense of togetherness,sans black,red,brown yellow hues. send to big concrete churches ( morton bldg) sunday school and the park,where only white bread is served. take to family reunions that never allow the black sheep to attend. educate via right wing,elected eductors that uses a corricullum thier chuch approves. make sports a major impact,on any minority. meet with good ol boys,and girls who make guns a first priority,and the south gonna win,er,again… make impression by showing jr,how to mow grass and poeple. tell stories of the big war that you and wallace fought. make sure his first love is someone that daddy approves. make sure hes well versed in driving fast in that big ol pickup,no matter whos in the way..make sure on the big 18,he gets his first new ar15. have him load apps that keep him abrest of rightwing info,and bullshit media voices. (in his head)…support his need to enter politics and enter the capitals fully armed on the first day in office,or any time hes in town…make no sense on middle of road on racial and liberal justice,or any vague and
    never admit the skys falling. stand on c span and tell America the insurrection they saw,is not,what they saw,its just a buncha good ol boys suckin the president..

  17. Point of information: Rodney King said, “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids? … It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice … Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out.”

    In other words, he didn’t say, “Can’t we get along.”

  18. “Bottom line: the search for a “middle ground” is only reasonable when the parties involved in a particular dispute are rational, intellectually honest and operating in good faith.”
    “Good faith,” being the operative phrase.
    Today’s QOP does not even live up to the level of being “Of more than ordinary mediocrity.” The old version of that party was still able to tolerate, and apparently honor a Paul Ryan, a John Boehner, a Gingrich, a Strom Thurmond. Yes, by today’s standards these are all moderates, even evil Newt.

  19. I suspect that, in time, if we are lucky, America will grow out of this political stand-off. IF we are lucky. The Right has painted itself into an existential corner believing that, like South Africa, minorities will soon become majorities and white folks will feel their wrath (justified) for 400 years of control. They will lose their control of the economy and their country.

    When you believe you are in a life and death struggle and you have structured your culture, your religion, to defend you against the hordes and the coming onslaught, you tend not to negotiate or not negotiate in good faith because you believe it is compromising that created the problem. It is a binary problem on the RIght that the Left can’t solve. There is no negotiation possible with those with an irrational fear of extinction even if they caused the problem to start with.

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