Back on a thread yesterday, reader CW offered this:
Did you read Dana Beach’s recent [column] in the Post and Courier? He was lamenting Kathleen Parker’s label of Bob Inglis as a centrist. He saw Inglis more as someone who makes decisions based on his own judgment and that compromising shouldn’t be a virtue above all else. Good editorial and I’d like to hear your thoughts on it.
Well, now I have read it, and here are my thoughts…
There’s merit in what Dana says, but there are weaknesses as well.
He’s right that Kathleen’s use of language is inadequate, on a number of levels. For one thing, Bob Inglis’ problem is not moderation. He’s a very conservative guy who just doesn’t happen to hew to anyone else’s orthodoxy. Which means national commentators have trouble talking about him coherently, because they think in the binary terms of left-right. Kathleen at least is capable of breaking out of that.
And I understand what Kathleen is saying. “Moderate” has become shorthand (which Dana may call lazy if he likes) for people who refuse to play the absolutist right-left game in Washington. As imperfect as the term is, I’m just glad that anyone who writes from inside the Beltway (and yes, she lives in Camden, but she writes for Washington) even HAS a term for people who go their own way.
What Inglis is is INDEPENDENT.
As am I. I hold many views that are not moderate (one of the most vicious canards in our collective political consciousness is that independents are people who can’t make up their minds; on the contrary, we are people who DO make up our minds rather than buying prefab values off the shelf), but on the whole I’m not insulted when someone calls me that, because it means they know I’m not a ranting ideologue. And I take exception to Dana’s assertion that “The history of “moderation” in American politics is signified by moral cowardice and political irrelevance.” On the contrary, those of us who refuse to go along with either of the dominant ideological strains show considerable courage by charting an independent course. Frankly, I view most adherents of strong ideological leaning as sheep.
And his evocation of Chamberlain is entirely unfair, and lazy. History is replete with moderates who stood courageously against the ravages of absolutism or of “progress.” St. Thomas More, a most moderate man, comes to mind. So does Dwight Eisenhower. So does John Adams, a man with a distaste for ideology who did far more for the American cause than did his firebrand cousin Samuel. Abraham Lincoln was not some ideological extremist; his goal was to hold the Union together. And I’ve always regarded Goldwater’s famous dictum with some distaste: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Really? Let me introduce you to the Tea Party. “Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” How do you figure? A belief in the moderate concept of rule of law is essential to justice; otherwise we are in a Hobbesian state.
So to my mind, the piece has good points and bad points.
By the way, here’s what I wrote on this topic back in my original UnParty column:
What a relief when “David” spoke for me by writing, “I am always intrigued by this argument that moderates aren’t passionate about anything…. I take every issue on its own merits and when I make up my mind, I am as passionate and diehard about that position as any conservative or liberal could ever be.”
Exactly. Why is it so hard for partisans and ideologues to understand that we might hold our own values and positions even more passionately than they hold theirs, for the simple fact that they are ours. We didn’t do what they did, which was to buy an entire set of attitudes off the rack, preselected and packaged by someone else, and chosen based on nothing deeper than brand name.
Is there anything wishy-washy about the stands taken by such “moderates” as John McCain and our own Lindsey Graham? Was Joe Lieberman being a fence-sitter when he helped push through the Iraq Liberation Act, which way back in 1998 made the overthrow of Saddam Hussein the official policy of this country?
These are the people who take the independent risks that make things happen, from campaign finance reform to banning torture. Without them as pivots, giving ideas credibility by virtue of their own independence, we’d be forever in a state of stalemate, unable to settle any difficult issue.
And those of us who support their like are the ones who decide elections — not the partisans, who can be taken for granted.
Oh, and by the way: Should Bob Inglis decide to stage a comeback, I’d be glad to see him try to do it on the UnParty ticket.