The Problem With Moderation

A long time ago–twenty or so years, as my worsening memory calculates it–I tried to organize a local political group around the principles of civil discourse and moderation. I was concerned at the time about the nasty confrontations and unwillingness to negotiate that were increasingly characterizing political debate, and in my naiveté, I thought a group of nice, earnest folks might be able to nudge local combatants back toward an ill-defined “center.”

We called it the “American Values Alliance,” and you can guess how well that went. As one member concluded, there’s a reason you never see gangs of marching moderates.

In the years since that abortive effort, as the practice of “on the ground” politics has dramatically changed, I’ve come to recognize the massive impediments to–and lack of wisdom of– similar attempts.

In the past, “moderate” essentially meant “in the middle.” A moderate was someone who understood that half a loaf was better than no bread at all, and was willing to sit down with proponents of contrary policies to see if some middle ground existed. That approach works when the opposing positions are center-left and center-right–or at least when proponents of different policies come from rational, albeit different, perspectives.

When one side of a conflict wants to deprive the other side of fundamental rights, there is no “middle.”

What does half a loaf look like when the argument is about the right of trans children to access lifesaving medical care? What is the “middle ground” in a debate over who gets to decide whether a woman reproduces?

How do we “negotiate” with lawmakers who call LGBTQ citizens “abominations” and insist that nonChristians aren’t “real Americans”?

What is the “middle ground” between banning books and respecting the expertise of schoolteachers and librarians–not to mention the rights of parents who disagree?

When a political party threatens to upend the global financial order by refusing to authorize the payment of bills already incurred–amounts the government owes (thanks in many cases to votes cast by those now threatening to default)–giving in to some of that party’s demands is negotiating with terrorists and encouraging future blackmail.

I’m sure you can all come up with similar examples.

I tend to think of moderation today as the definition being employed by ReCenter, the organization I wrote about a couple of weeks ago–not as a center point between policy positions, but as a characteristic of reasonable people. A moderate person, defined in that way, is a rational citizen, someone open to discourse and amenable to evidence–not a rabid ideologue or bigot.

My sister recently hit the nail on the head when she opined that the arguments currently taking place between the parties aren’t about policy–they’re about morality.

My sister and I both used to be among those thousands of Republican women who volunteered in our respective precincts to get out the vote, and considered ourselves to be…yes…moderates. We currently number among the thousands who have fled the racist, homophobic, misogynistic cult that is today’s GOP.

I don’t know how one becomes a “moderate” racist or anti-Semite. I don’t know how the  base of the GOP squares its current positions with the moral aspirations of the U.S. Constitution or the historic American emphasis on civic equality and democratic decision-making.

What prompted this particular diatribe was an important recent statement by Third Way’s executive vice president. Progressives routinely accuse Third Way of being unrealistically moderate, but the statement–quite correctly, in my opinion– lambasted another presumably “moderate” group, No Labels:

The group No Labels is holding its nominating convention in Dallas to select a 3rd Party candidate that most assuredly would hurt Biden and elect Trump or whoever wins the GOP nomination. They have already raised $70m. They are already on the ballot in a bunch of states. And in a map they recently published showing their absurd path to 270 electoral college votes, they’ve targeted 23 states for victory—19 won by Biden and 4 won by Trump. That gives you an idea of what they’re up to and who they really want to elect. And as a reminder, No Labels endorsed Trump in 2016.

(Subsequently, evidence emerged that Republican “dark money” is funding No Labels.)

In a sane world, moderation and willingness to compromise are virtues.  We don’t currently occupy a sane world. As a letter to the Washington Post accurately put it:

One side believes in American democracy, while the other has attacked it. One is governing from the mainstream, while the other champions extremism. One seeks to work collaboratively on the issues; the other has given way to conspiracy theorists and cranks.

A vote for No Labels –or for any third-party candidate–isn’t evidence of moderation. It’s a Faustian bargain.


  1. It is a shame that so many claim to be ‘fed up with both parties’, or say they are ‘both the same’, and use that as an excuse to vote Independent or whatever third party is available (often, it feels, simple out of spite and not for that candidate…Berniebots being a notable exception, following him as if he was the second coming).
    Yes, the major parties pander, and yes, they frequently fail to deliver on all their promises…but any sane person who tries to say they’re ‘the same’ is simply refusing to pay attention.
    And no, I don’t have an answer. I don’t think the parties are the problem; I think it’s the populace, refusing to compromise, and being so insistent on “winning”, at all costs.

  2. As I see it, a vote for the Democratic Party is a Faustian Bargain. The Democrats showed us their cards by not convicting the funders of 1/6 – the dark money which funded No Labels because they needed them to support a second party in Washington.

    Yes, they both need a “wretched party” to blame and do so all the time. The Republicans refer to the Democrats as baby killers, etc.

    It’s all performative for the voting classes, but it’s no longer working. All the games they play have caused the voters to go independent and/or shy away from voting. Only the die-hards vote now.

    When Biden and Trump are considered the two “leaders” of the national parties, you know the parties are in serious decline. The media can put on all the make-up on these two pigs and dress them in suits, but they’re still pigs.

    I don’t even think we have a rational medium. I believe the rational actors have left the audience completely or vote in silence. Maybe they vote for the lesser of the two evils at this point. The oligarchy won’t give us candidates for real change. Let’s see what happens to the anti-corruption, anti-oligarchy Robert Kennedy does in the debates with Biden. Robert will slay Biden on national TV if he gets the chance. IF.

  3. “You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place.”

    ― Jonathan Swift

  4. Community organizers rally support by selecting known problems that stir emotion. Organizers frame select problems to become issues. Problems become issues when organizers make the case for something specific … something immediate…something that involves people into action. It is the root nature of politics…plain and simple.

  5. “Everything in moderation; including moderation.” Oscar Wilde

    “The Audacity of Hope”, book author Senator Barack Obama. That “audacity” was and remains that both parties would once again sit at the bargaining table and together seek solutions to our problems.

    President Biden tried that yesterday; resulting as one of the four party leaders continues to “…refuses to authorize the payment of bills already incurred…”. That one party “leader”, who is operating under the blackmail threat of losing his Speaker position by the Trump MAGA, White Nationalist, Freedom Caucus faction, who agreed during his 15 votes to become Speaker of the House that the Speaker could be removed at any time by a vote in the House is desperate to hang onto that lofty position. During the Debt Increase meeting with President Biden, George Santos was finally indicted after months of demands for his indictment, he serves on no committee and is kept in the House because his number in votes is his only value in the Republican’s slim majority. Also during that vital meeting, Trump was finally found to be libel to E. Jean Carroll on 9 of the 10 Civil charges against him but is till the favored nominee for the presidency…AGAIN.

    “When a political party threatens to upend the global financial order by refusing to authorize the payment of bills already incurred–amounts the government owes (thanks in many cases to votes cast by those now threatening to default)–giving in to some of that party’s demands is negotiating with terrorists and encouraging future blackmail.”

    The “Problem With Moderation” here is there is NO moderation within the Republican party at any level. The Democratic party has its own detractors within the party who are our problem to deal with; we are force to deal with all of the problems within the Republican party as well as our own. “In a sane world, moderation and willingness to compromise are virtues.”

    We haven’t lived in a “sane world” since 2015 when Trump slithered down that escalator announcing his candidacy for president.

  6. Mea culpa! My self-editing didn’t catch the misspelling of Trump’s liable, not “libel” guilty findings yesterday.

  7. A great example of the Oligarchy needing both parties in Washington is the “bargaining” on the debt ceiling limit – funds already passed now getting a second chance to be cut.

    The oligarchs will likely get their cuts…progressive cuts like student loans and electric vehicles. These were decided on when the bills were passed, or executive orders were signed. Biden claimed them as wins, but the “devilish Republicans forced the cuts” to sign raising the debt ceiling limit. #Performative

    No social deals, but plenty of hard dollars the Oligarchy counts on.

  8. With regard to the comments about the No Labels group, I was reminded of the comment from the German-American writer, Hannah Arendt, who once said that it is important to remember that when you choose the lesser of two evils, you are choosing evil.

  9. One party represents an existential threat to the country. The other is mildly dysfunctional, but NOT a threat to our way of life. In all of the anti Biden angst, I have noted that the Progressive caucus is solidly behind the President. The choice is clear. Vote Democratic up and down the ballot. Put an end to the existential threat, then focus on the dysfunction. Understand that there isn’t a magic wand we can wave to correct all of our ills. It takes hard work and a lot of time.

  10. “I don’t know how the base of the GOP squares its current positions…” I believe you hit on the answer when you said morality. When you sufficiently “other” your opponents you can commit all kinds of terrible acts in the name of defeating them. It’s actually quite a clever (if monstrous) strategy.

    When you’re fighting demons, devils, child abusers, etc. it hardly matters what you do. The ends (stopping true, pure evil) justify almost any means. I respect the plan even if I loath it.

  11. Sorry, I just got around to reading this. Doubt anyone will see this but it occurs to me that the masses, or middle if you prefer, do not do much to organize around concrete goals. Look at the Republicans. They have subgroups NRA, Anti-abortion, Pro-Oil and coal, Grassroots promotions and demonstrations, and Anti-anything that implies change on their part. They are very organized around emotional, specific, and singular goals. They have segmented their market, much like how they sell any product to the masses. They use Specific, Measurable, Action centered, Realistic, and Time-Bound goals. The Democrats are not an organized party. They spend as much time attacking each other as they do their adversaries.
    Is it possible to change the Parties or are we stuck in Groundhog Dy?

    We need Long-Term, organized, and intelligently designed groups that operate like Special Forces to take back our Democratic Republic of, by, and for the American People

  12. Well organized fascists will always defeat liberals. It’s a dogs vs. cats problem. Hyenas kill powerful lions. Pack animals win. R-voting drones are easy to fool and easy to lead into battle, and like good little hyenas, they always follow their alphas.

    Todd, you are wrong. The R agenda is sinister, the R leadership malicious in intent. The Ds as a whole are not, for the reason I mention above. They are not organized under dark principles as the Rs are.

  13. The long arm of the law is finally poised to clean up some of the smelly, toxic red tide of Republican corruption. It’s a long, painstaking process but I wouldn’t trade it for quick vigilantism.
    Todd, a vote for Biden is a vote for sane, responsible government. It may be impossible to rein in the oligarchs completely, but there is no moral equivalence between Biden and Trump or between the current leadership of the Republican and Democratic Party.

  14. THANK YOU, Sharon!! Watching the GOP dance around the orange pustule’s failure in court…not to mention Santos in custody…is sad..just sad!

  15. The Founders are doing upside down summersaults in their graves. They feared parties and we now see why. The democratic ideal is to vote for a PERSON whom you trust to vote for country OVER party, for country OVER ideology.

  16. Letting me pose a question!

    When has Faith in mankind’s decision making process ever been deserved?

    The entire issue of moderation flew out the window long ago. And, history will show you in every single case, The desire for authority and suppression overcomes the desire for a better life. The advancements of civilizations seems impressive, that is, until you have large swaths of extremist leanings, because of some sort of disaster or perceived disaster or some sort of slight, or non-inclusiveness /exclusivity.

    Humans have always wanted to be gods, so they could rule over their fellow man. Christ pointed that out, and it was also pointed out in the Old testament.

    Cooperation amongst citizens of these civilizations deteriorates towards a paralyzing anarchical conglomeration of warring factions. Sometimes physical warring, sometimes political warring, regardless, the damage is unreparable. This country has been at a war since its beginning.

    The continuous war against the native population here, The constant conflict concerning slavery, the civil war, the Spanish-American war, the first World war, the second World war, Korea, Vietnam, and the non-stop activity in the Middle East!

    This country always has its nose in places where it shouldn’t be. We like to tell everyone else how wrong they are, but We are unable to have a fair inequitable society. This country has incarcerated one out of every 100 citizens. How is this supposed to be a functional free democracy? One out of every 100 persons locked up for various issues. One of the major ones, is mental health problems.

    What could 40,50 or 60 billion dollars do for society? It hasn’t done much for the Ukraine, and who knows what that outcome will be. And yet, because leadership dictates the problem that needs to be solved, the people seem to give them a pass. So, the population, the ones that are not in prison, become commodities, even if it’s just for their votes. But nothing changes. Eventually, this government will descend into complete anarchy, just like every single one before us.

    Faith is surely misplaced, humanities faith is based on Me’ist principles. So there can be no cooperation between society whatsoever. Because everyone believes that their own personal Me’ist philosophies are the most important. Whether it’s religious authoritarianism, whether it’s racial superiority, whether it’s the ridiculousness of 100 different genders, which doesn’t accomplish anything. With governments fighting Walt Disney, when wealth seems to insulate individuals from penalty, There is no solution!

    Look what happened in 70 CE with Jerusalem, the Romans didn’t even have to conquer the city, Jerusalem destroyed itself within its own walls by infighting amongst factions seeking complete control. They destroyed their own food supplies, and the Romans just walked through the gates.

    In the end, even the Romans defeated themselves.

    A society devoid of faith, any kind of faith, is doomed from the beginning. Because without faith, there is no hope, and without hope, You have nothing but despair. And with a civilization in despair, There is no cohesion, without cohesion There is no civilization!

    Think I’m wrong? Point out one civilization that didn’t follow the same path! There aren’t any. They all devolve into faithless authoritarian anarchy. All the historical attempts for a palatable Kool-Aid have failed, they are all sour!

  17. Rick, I DID read your posting. When the so-called independents and Democrats only vote at a rate of less than 50% we get the crap in our government. Those shit-stained, right-wing, corrupted morons vote at over 90% even though they only represent 25% of the total electorate. When sane and good people don’t vote – for WHATEVER reason, this is the outcome today.

    We’re probably as polarized today as we were in the 1850s, and we saw how well that turned out. We’re up for another re-setting of the “middle” via a major upheaval of some sort. In that way, the gun fondlers see it as another civil war. Rational and sane people MUST respond with ACTION at the ballot box… while we still have them. Case in point: The festering carbuncle on the ass of humanity, Greg Abbott, just signed a bill that allowed the Harris County (Texas’ most populous and blue voting country) DA the authority to overturn elections he didn’t like. ALSO, that law eliminates ballot Dropbox’s altogether and denies college students the right to vote while residing on campus. You want extremism? Just watch what Texas Republicans keep doing.

    Democrats need to step up and get dirty, because the Republicans know NO decency, or have ANY concept of fairness. You can’t win a bar fight by throwing napkins. Republicans, being the party of no pro-democracy or pro-citizen agenda will fight like brawlers they are just to win elections. Get with it Democrats. FIGHT LIKE OUR COUNTRY DEPENDS ON IT.

  18. The problem with “moderation” is that it is being proposed as an ideology. Voters are as sick of ideologies (and micro-ideologies like “identity politics”) instead of governing for the common good. My favorite example: 70%+ of registered GOP favor a path to citizenship for Dreamers. But, DEMs won’t write a bill that ONLY does that – their bills must include many other immigration (and likely, non-immigration) things, many of which GOPers won’t pass. So nada gets done for Party’s sake. SAD.

  19. “I don’t know how one becomes a “moderate” racist or anti-Semite. I don’t know how the
    base of the GOP squares its current positions with the moral aspirations of the U.S. Constitution
    or the historic American emphasis on civic equality and democratic decision-making.”

    One can not, and the base does not care.
    It strikes me as sad and misleading to consider that the debate is about morality, when the
    GOP has clearly given up, and sometimes clearly and loudly, any pretense about having
    morals. When mega-donors say that they do not care about what tactic is used to win; when
    an election denying lawyer tells the GOP that they need to disenfranchise young, college-age
    voters, and so on, morality is not the issue. The issue is calling them out on their lack thereof!

  20. Our current administration is the worst ever.

    Biden and his cohorts hate America and Americans. Hopefully, we will have choices to quickly send the Biden Crime Family back to Deleware and far away from political influence. What a laughingstock the office has become during his humiliating regime.

  21. Just checking…so if in an open primary, Adam Kinzinger is running against a MAGA or Liz Cheney is running against a MAGA, you wouldn’t care because they are all GOPers?

  22. Lester. I would be willing to vote for them if I thought they had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. Of course, neither of them is currently part of the Republican leadership. I admire them for finally coming out strongly for the rule of law but it was too little too late to save the Republican Party.

  23. Pascal – many people agreed and stayed home in 1968. We were stuck with Nixon. I don’t know how many people died in Vietnam, but I am certain that it was a lot more than it would have been with “lesser-evil” Humphrey.

    One other problem with “moderate third parties” is that their idea of “middle” is somewhere between the most popular Republican President, Reagan, and the most policy-effective, Clinton.
    Not my idea of the “middle”.

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