The Firebrand Moderate: Notes from the Middle of the Road

I often think it’s comical — Fal, lal, la!
How Nature always does contrive — Fal, lal, la!
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative!
Fal, lal, la!
- Gilbert and Sullivan
Iolanthe, 1882

It’s true, as Gilbert and Sullivan’s Sergeant Willis muses: We’re all wired at least a little bit one way or the other, from birth. (Or from early childhood. It has to do with individual survival instinct, I think.) Then we’re carefully taught. But for the parts of us that are nature versus nurture we really can’t be blamed too much.

For years, maybe since the Gingrich Subversion of the legislative branch, Americans have been presented with prix fixe menus from both major parties. But of course it’s best to be able to order à la carte from a menu of good ideas, no matter which side of the aisle the ideas come from. The orthodoxy requirements of both sides are nuts, whether the subject is guns, religion, taxes, abortion, energy, war, money — pretty much anything that requires careful thought and discussion.

There’s no doubt that the intransigence of the two parties is asymmetrical; Republican intransigence since Gingrich, and especially during the Obama years, has been 100-percent ideological: automatic, complete, and thought-free. But this brings out a tit-for-tat mentality in more than a few Democrats, and even a little of that can be seized upon as evidence of equal wrong.

Without any outside influence, I think I’m wired just a tad right of center. Or maybe a little bit left. You tell me.

  • OK with both Truman Democrats and Eisenhower Republicans.
  • Liked JFK. Might have been the myth. And Jackie. and the Vaughn Meader records.
  • Didn’t like Johnson back then, but like him better now.
  • Didn’t like Nixon.
  • Slept through Ford, but he was a good guy.
  • Liked Carter quite a bit. Thought his ‘malaise speech’ was excellent.
  • Liked Reagan as a person. Thought he was a dangerous and very lucky president.
  • Liked G.H.W. Bush. Still do.
  • Couldn’t stand Bill Clinton. Still can’t.
  • Liked G.W Bush when he went in, couldn’t stand him by 2003. Now like him better.
  • Liked Obama very much, although he made some poor policy decisions and got into some unseemly grandstanding. Thought he did a reasonable job despite hellish, stupid obstruction.

I originally registered as an independent, but in my state you have to be registered with one of the two main parties to vote in the primaries. So I became a Democrat. But I crossed the aisle now and then, and when Bill Clinton dragged us through that asinine Lewinsky mess, lying through his teeth on TV and wasting the world’s time, I wrote my legislators and asked them to throw the book at him. But they followed the weasly party line, so I switched parties and became a Republican.

When we invaded Iraq, the dumbest thing I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime, back I went to being a Democrat.

This last time around I voted for Bernie in the primary, and for Hillary Clinton over Trump, but might have voted for John Kasich, Colin Powell, John McCain, or even, God forgive me, Mitt Romney if the Republicans had had the gumption to run one of them against her. And the hell with Debbie Wasserman Schultz, too — if we’d wanted a decent human being to kick over the cart without ruining everything, we might have been able to pick Bernie.

I’m a lifetime gun-owner — rifle, shotgun, handgun. I don’t hunt but I like target practice. I think semi-automatic assault weapons with 30-round magazines in the hands of civilians are absurd. I think the NRA stance is absurd, and Wayne LaPierre is absurd and horrible and dangerous. I believe it should be at least as hard to buy and own a gun as it is to get a driver’s licence, with serious training, written and practical tests, and a waiting period.

Let’s see, what else. I believe in science, and think it’s obvious that humans are causing more than our share of climate change. Take a look at the earth at night. No impact, you say? Also, when 99 percent of the experts in a subject are in lock-step agreement, and the naysayers are being paid by those with a vested interest in the nays, it shouldn’t be that hard to decide which side to take.

Earth at Night. Photo courtesy of NASA.

In any case, climate support and job creation should be nonpartisan issues. Everyone benefits from both things, and those who need extra support in the transition, like coal miners, should get the extra support and retraining. We can afford it.

And immigration. Nowhere are the false and unfair demands of ideology more obvious, more hidebound, and more dangerous than in the ferocious debate over who gets to come into the country. So here’s a take from the middle of the road.

America is, historically and at its best, a land of immigrants who become Americans. More than any other country it’s a melting pot of the world’s peoples. The American Constitution and Bill of Rights are unique in history, so immigrants should know what they’re getting into. Anyone who comes here to make a new life should be expected and encouraged to maintain some elements of their original culture, but at the same time to understand and happily subject themselves to American laws of citizenship, including those involving documentation and taxation, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.

It’s possible to be in favor of stricter immigration policy (or stricter enforcement of existing policy) without being afraid of immigrants or hostile to any immigrant group, including Muslim refugees from war-torn countries. It’s also possible to be alert to the potential difficulties of Muslim assimilation into American society.

Is Islam, in its formal practice, adaptable or not adaptable to the principle of the separation of church and state? This question needs to be answered by Muslim leaders and by individual Muslims. If the answer is that it is not adaptable, then Muslims who want to live in the U.S. will need either to put their citizenship ahead of their religion, or not come. (The same, of course, applies to fundamentalists of any religion who believe that the commands of their chosen deities take precedence over the laws of society. It just doesn’t work in America.)

As for Mexican immigrants, the dismay and outrage among law-abiding US. citizens, including those who were recent immigrants themselves, over the abuse of the American system by illegal, non-taxpaying immigrants and all the entrenched structures that support them, is understandable. It’s possible to acknowledge that and still be firmly against resistance to immigration based on fear, xenophobia, and jingoism. But if “Build the Wall!” represents the intellectual extent of policy on one side, the rallying cry on the other side will be “Nazis! Fascists! Ignorant fools!”

Immigration problems can be worked out, but not by those who won’t budge from their ideologies, prejudices, and party orthodoxies. It’s a matter of finding common ground and legislating away from the fringes. When you have screeches of roughly equal volume coming from the two extremes, you’ve probably made a decent policy.

So, again, you tell me — am I left or right, Republican or Democrat, progressive or conservative?

~~~~~