The Moderation Manifesto
Balancing Idealism with Realpolitik
In the late 1890s in France, there was a cartoon of a family sitting down to dinner, the caption reads “We agree not to discuss the Dreyfus case.” The next panel shows a total brawl and mayhem with the caption: “They did.”
We could have the same cartoon today, only substitute Trump. Of course Trump is only emblematic of the partisan divide between liberal and conservative, left and right. There is no civil discourse, just dueling monologues.
The word “liberal” has become a dirty word in some circles, morphed into “libtard”, “snowflake”, “globalist” or “left wing moron”; “conservative” has been transformed to “right-wing nut job”, “broflake”, “neckbeard”, or “deplorables.” More than the petty insults, is the trigger that the word “liberal” or “conservative” evokes — it automatically slaps a label on another, placing them in a box with no exit.
George W. Bush branded himself as a compassionate conservative, an implicit reach to certain liberal social ideals like Medicare and Food Stamps. Bill Clinton formulated “Workfare” as a realization that the welfare stamp of liberal policies were not working. The effort to reach across the aisle for any bipartisanship legislation is now something to be found in a history book. We are entrenched in our ideologies, and burrowing deeper into our ideological bunkers.
Robert Kennedy is a study in political evolution. His father, while ambassador to England, approved of Hitler’s achievements. Robert himself began as a hard nosed anti communist, served as an assistant counsel to the Senate Committee chaired by McCarthy, and later as chief counsel of the Senate Labor Rackets where he went after the corrupt Teamsters and Jimmy Hoffa. As the US Attorney General, he was tough on organized crime and communism. After his brother’s assassination, and the failed policy of Vietnam, RFK began sounding more liberal — pro civil rights, anti-war, defender of the poor and downtrodden. He demonstrated a capacity to re-evaluate and move beyond the limiting factors of his younger extreme self.
In the same period, Hubert Humphrey was known to be a champion of liberal causes, yet tough on Communism, only to be drowned out by his faltering support of the war. Even Richard Nixon was a moderate when it came to policies on the environment (he founded the EPA), wage and price control. The die hard anti-communist of the 50s initiated a breakthrough policy of opening up China in the 70s.
We’ve lost our ability to see that certain liberal positions on domestic policy help society as whole: Medicare and Medicaid, School lunch programs, subsidies housing, rent control, earned income tax credits. The current administration railed against Obamacare, promising to repeal and replace, but when it came down to the vote, there wasn’t the will to take away people’s insurance.
The other side of the aisle has lost the sense that the world is a dangerous place, that leaders of Turkey, Philippines, Syria, Iran, and North Korea are brutal dictators, that regimes in the Middle East are repressive of women and the LGBT community. There are those who think that if a population is downtrodden, they are right, no matter how cruel their society is. We think if we just can talk it out, all differences can be reconciled. We’ve lost our sense of realpolitik.
We need leadership that will not give tax breaks to the rich, nor take away their money. Our education system is rife with intolerant elitism while impossibly expensive. You can major in gender studies in college without having taken a civics class in high school. Vocational training is rare. We need to balance the future and idealism of our youth with the harsh realities of today.
Along with our inability to see the complexities of the world is our demonizing of anyone who doesn’t fit our brand. We must champion civil rights at the same time respect our police. We don’t need to defund the police, we need to retrain, educate, and sift out those bullies with a badge. We need to support social safety nets while maintaining military strength. We are required to help our fellow citizen while encouraging entrepreneurship; pursue a foreign policy that participates in the global community while preserving our interests. In short we need a “socialist” safety net with a capitalistic skyscraper; a proffered left hand and a mighty right one.
That is what is missing today — a sense of balance. And where are the balance nerves located? In the ears. We can moderate our polarized world and strive for equilibrium by listening and understanding the other (without having to agree).