First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
The Insanity of Parties
I'm writing this as the Super Tuesday results are starting to come in, and you know what? I'm going to be miserable no matter who wins.
And do you know why? Because there's not one candidate who comes close to representing my positions on all the issues I care about.
Love McCain's position on the war. Happy with his position on illegal aliens, at least as it used to be. Loathe his position on almost everything else. Hate the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. And the man himself is scary -- a real hater, a grudge-holder, and almost eager to lie about anyone he conceives to be his enemy. If you liked Nixon's ugly side, you'll just love McCain -- he's Nixon without the charm.
Love Romney's ability to govern with compromise, moderation, wisdom. The only candidate still left in the race who has proven, again and again, that he knows how to be top executive of complicated, troubled organizations and make them work better. He successfully governed a state whose legislature was in the hands of the political opposition. But I worry about his learning curve on foreign affairs. And I hate his cruel and ultimately ineffective position on illegal immigrants.
Like Obama as a human being, at least insofar as we're seeing the real Obama. His personality seems to be appropriately presidential -- measured, moderate, but definitely in charge. He thinks before he speaks and acts -- sort of the opposite of McCain. But his statements on foreign affairs make it clear that he has absolutely no idea how such matters are conducted and what the repercussions of the policies he has announced would actually be. And on the war, his position is to kick victory in the butt and go off in search of a nice, permanent, devastating defeat.
Despise everything about Hillary that I don't active hate. She's a bribe-taker (cattle futures), a liar, a complete phony. ("Oooh, look at me, I cried again! I can feel my own pain! I'm a real woman!") Her entire political qualification consists of saying I Do to Bill Clinton and then not divorcing him any of the thousand times he deserved it. In short, she's a "stand by your man and he'll get you into the Senate and back into the White House" kind of woman. She's the anti-feminist candidate. And she's absolutely terrifying on health care ("We'll just have to make you stay healthy") and the war ("We've got to hurry up and wreck this victory George W. Bush has managed to bring us!").
What a nightmare.
Except it's usually like this. In election after election, I've had to vote for the least nauseating candidate. And yes, you Reagan lovers, I know you didn't feel that way, but you should have: imagine paying ransom to hostage takers, and in the form of weapons, no less! Signing a law banning aid to the contras, and then defying the law he signed. Not to mention instantly withdrawing our troops from Lebanon, thus teaching our enemies that terrorism totally works against the United States.
You may not have been holding your nose to vote for him, but I was.
The only candidate I've actually been proud to vote for in my lifetime was George W. Bush; if I'd been old enough to vote, I would have felt that way about Eisenhower.
But hey, it's our political system, so we choose among the people ambitious and crazy enough to run for President.
Here's the source of our problems. The best candidates rarely run because they are too moderate to be chosen by either party.
And the parties have now become so dominated by their lunatic fringes that you have to accept an insane melange of doctrines in order to be considered a true conservative or a real progressive.
Let's say you think abortion should be restricted to only those cases where the fetus is nonviable, and only when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake. That would be my position, too.
So what rule of logic, what great universal principle then requires you also to think it's a great idea for assault weapons to be available to the general public, or for any clown to carry a handgun concealed on his person? How do these topics overlap?
Yet you'd better be "right" on both doctrines or you'll be excommunicated from the Republican Party.
Of course Mitt Romney had to claim to support the NRA. He had to kiss that particular collective tush because you can't get nominated without it. He couldn't possibly say what he really thinks, which is probably this: "I haven't thought about owning a gun since I was a kid with a cap pistol. Get a life."
It goes the other way. Suppose you absolutely oppose the death penalty -- which, by the way, I do, though only because I believe that there have been too many miscarriages of justice to entrust our police and prosecutors to tell the whole truth to juries. Still, by what remote logic should this mean that I must also be in favor of erasing the privileged position of marriage (i.e., a permanent heterosexual union recognized by the community) under our laws?
Yet if you're running for President as a Democrat, you have to be "right" on the death penalty and on "gay marriage" or you might as well not run. And this year, opposition to protecting the world from insane jihadists has been added to the Democratic Party's list.
I could go on and on -- and in private conversation, I do, until people cover their ears and run away screaming. There is no coherency to either party, yet both parties now insist on ideological purity!
The only way to be genuinely ideologically pure on either side is to switch your brain off and never have a thought of your own. Because even a cursory effort to educate yourself on any of these issues will make it clear that both parties are wholly or partly wrong on everything.
How can a person who is honest, intelligent, and educated possibly hold every single "correct" position of either party?
So ... what do you do?
You can become an "independent," I suppose, but that just means you're cut out of the nominating process in most states and you're still stuck with whatever clowns the major parties nominate in the general election.
You can join a fringe party -- Libertarian, say, or Green. But that means you're tossing your vote down a sinkhole in our two-party, loser-takes-none electoral system. Plus, it's not as if the Libertarian or Green parties are any smarter or more rational. They have fewer contradictions only because they each have a single idea that they care about and flog that one to death.
Or you join one of the parties, holding your nose all the while, and call yourself a moderate. (Or, I guess, if you're holding your nose, a "boderate.")
For thirty years I've been an "embarrassed Democrat"; flip a coin and I would have been a "humiliated Republican." But what I've always been is a moderate.
Here's what a moderate isn't:
You aren't a moderate because you can't make up your mind. Indeed, you're a moderate precisely because you do make up your mind, all by yourself, without letting anybody else determine a whole ideology for you.
You aren't a moderate because you're so mild-mannered that you just don't want to upset anybody. On the contrary, you're used to upsetting everybody, because they all get so agitated when they find out you're right about A and B bot hopelessly, stubbornly "wrong" about X and Y.
You aren't a moderate because you shunned the extreme positions and found a middle ground. On some issues there is no middle ground. What would the middle ground on the War against Terror be? Invade but apologize? Fight but try not to win? (Oh, wait -- that was our Vietnam policy, wasn't it?) No, moderates often take a hardline, all-or-nothing position -- but not the same list of positions that either party's groupthinkers demand.
And here's the clincher: No two moderates are alike. I call myself a moderate Democrat, but I can imagine another moderate Democrat who took the opposite position from me on everything. How are we then alike? Yet since we both differ from the ideologically pure position of either party, we have to belong somewhere, right?
Here's what a moderate is: We think about the issues and make up our own minds based on the evidence we believe in and the policies we think might work in the real world.
We listen to everybody (though we don't have to keep listening to those who are just chanting the same tune over and over again). When new and better information comes along, we change our minds -- and we don't apologize for it. (That alone would disqualify us from being a Republican candidate, because if a Republican changes his mind, he's a "flip-flopper.")
We try to discuss political differences with civility -- at least when we're talking to civil people. (We tend to turn our backs on the screamers.)
And in the real world of politics, moderates are willing to take less than everything they want, hanging on to the most important bits while giving the other guy what he needs most. It's called "compromise," and it can get you politically smeared in both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Moderates make the most effective legislators and executives and judges. They are far more tolerant of difference of opinion than the diehards of either party. You can actually talk to them.
And except for a rare fluke -- George W. Bush being anointed by the Republican elites because he had great name recognition, for instance, or Dwight D. Eisenhower's having been commander of the Allies in Europe -- you will almost never see a genuine moderate at the head of either party's ticket.
In fact, they almost never run for the office, unless they have such a consuming ambition that they're willing to pretend to be a purethinking ideologue long enough to get the nomination.
Here's the saddest thing: Most Americans are moderates -- or would be, if they had ever been taught any history so they could listen to the news with some perspective.
(In fact, as the ideologues take over the schools, have you noticed that the first thing both the Left and the Right try to do is turn history into propaganda? It terrifies them that if kids ever learned real history, they wouldn't grow up to be their groupthink buddies.)
Even my most partisan friends have some nonstandard opinions -- they just keep them a secret from their other partisan friends so they seem ideologically pure. That's what groupthink does to us -- it makes us ashamed of our own ideas.
Moderates: Passionate, committed, educated, open-minded, civil, rational, unpredictable yet completely reliable.
Why won't anybody invite us to the party?
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