In the eternal culture war between liberals and conservatives, there’s a group that gets very little press, and at times even less influence in public policy. We’re called “Moderates”, and while we acknowledge that there are things about both groups that we like and admire, there are also things we don’t which are deal breakers for us. Liberals, we appreciate your focus on social justice and fairness, but you don’t quite seem to understand some fundamental facts of life and economics, like how people can be kind of selfish and want to get the most they can for the least effort. Conservatives, your focus on values and preserving traditions is something to be admired, but there are just too many times when values and traditions get put ahead of humanity. Both of you, the passion you put into your positions is something we moderates lack in a big way; you are never going to get people to march in the thousands for a rally to support reasonable compromises in an effort to plot a middle course between two extreme positions. Human beings just don’t get their blood up for the middle ground, it’s not an easy sell. There’s a reason all the extremists hang out on the extremes of the political spectrum, you know, that’s not just an accident of the English language being weird and funny, like how no actual coins are involved in coining a phrase.
Before going further, I think it’s important to define terms here, for clarity:
Conservative: Afraid that the poor and unemployed will tear down the economy and society for their own benefit.
Liberal: Afraid that the rich and powerful will tear down the economy and society for their own benefit.
Moderate: Afraid that the conservatives and liberals will tear down the economy and society because they can’t see past their ideological differences.
As Mr. Cleese so succinctly put it, extremist positions have a lot going for them, which is why they’re so popular these days. You don’t have to give any time to thinking about the positions of the people who disagree with you, you can just write them off as deluded, deranged or demon-possessed, and any problems presented by their objections go right away. Liberals, you get to feel superior to conservatives because they’re all either sell-outs to greed, religious fundamentalists, or in some other way morally compromised. Conservatives, you get to look down your noses at liberals because they’re dissolute wastrels looking for a handout, servants of the Devil or in some other way morally compromised. But wait, there’s more: in addition to these advantages, you both get to look down on the moderates for their lack of commitment and passion, because they’re half-assing their lives away by not giving themselves fully to the Cause (whichever Cause that may be) the way you do.
Oh, and Moderates? Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you, you get to look down your nose at both Liberals and Conservatives for letting themselves be led around by their emotions and propaganda while enjoying the smug satisfaction that *you* would never fall for such ham-fisted pandering to your ego the way those sheeple do all the time. Good for you, I’ll be sure to bring the cookies to our next meeting for clever people who are too clever for obvious flattery.
Now, I know there are going to be a few of you out there reading this saying, “But Trevor, I’ve known you for years, you’re a huge raging liberal! How dare you try to tell people you’re not?” To these people, I’d like to introduce you to the people who are uncomfortable with my long-standing conservatism and are a little upset to hear me trying to pass myself off as a moderate. I’m well aware that anyone reading my facebook feed or my posts on RoosterTeeth over the years will see an awful lot of posts that are critical of groups like the Conservative Party of Canada, the Saskatchewan Party and for you Americans, the GOP, but let me explain. The past several years, conservatism has held a stranglehold on the public agenda, and much of what I’ve shared has been an attempt to do a course correction back toward the middle. Yes, absolutely, I am a raging liberal when you set me next to Rick Santorum, Stephen Harper and Brad Wall (though, not nearly as much in Wall’s case), but when you set me next to Barney Frank, Elizabeth May and the late Jack Layton, I look like I must have a big white hood hidden in my closet next to my guns and Bible collection.
Back in my youth pastoring days, the way the first church I worked at did my evaluations was by putting a stack of blank forms out in the foyer of the church, and anyone who wanted to take the time to fill one out was welcome to do so. Anonymously. When my one year evaluation came up, the parish was working its way toward splitting, nasty things were being said all over the place, and in the middle of all this was a nice consequence-free way to vent some frustration, so you can just imagine how well that process went. The parish president actually apologized to me in advance for the way the process had gone, and he had also tried to compile the comments in such a way as to keep me from seeing the more hurtful and hateful things, but I was given one of the unedited copies by mistake. When I went down the form, I began to notice a pattern; it was an almost perfect split between comments like, “Trevor never does anything for himself and relies entirely on the parents to plan and execute events for the youth group,” on one side and, “Trevor insists on doing everything for himself and never allows the parents to take part in the direction or functions of the youth group.” Now, say what you will about me, but I don’t know how both of these could possibly be true statements, just based on the whole “P and ~P” thing.
The conclusion I and the evaluation committee came to was that the forms complaining about my laziness were coming from the parents who had become accustomed to doing little or nothing with their kids’ group before I came along and invited them to participate, and the ones harping on my lone wolf-ness came from the ones who had become accustomed to a certain level of “influence” on how things were run before I came along and took over. I’m sure if you could have sat down both sides and interviewed them they would have had ample evidence and examples they could point to that supported their positions. That time I worked from home instead of going in to my office, that other time when somebody offered to drive the kids but I’d already gotten someone else to do it, there are probably dozens of examples either side could provide to prove their opinion of me was valid. However, if you put both groups in a room together, what would the consensus be? Was I lazy, a control freak, or somehow both?
I use that personal example to illustrate how moderates feel in the current political landscape; we’re not compassionate enough for the liberals, we’re not ideologically pure enough for the conservatives, so we take shots from both sides. However, I believe that moderates have an important role to play in the public discourse as, well, Moderators. Again, this isn’t English being funny again, I really do think there is a need for moderates to step up and speak out. There are huge blind spots on the extremes that moderates can see, and we’re bilingual. We can translate between the two sides and see about building come much-needed bridges of communication as an alternative to standing on the sidelines watching the two sides yell at one another like Anglo tourists who sincerely believe that talking louder is a Universal Translator.
This is the great value of moderates to the political system, we are able to speak to conservatives and liberals in their own languages and pass that understanding along. Explain to liberals that while it absolutely is a moral outrage that people kill, skin and eat cows in the millions every year from their perspective, not everyone shares their principles or definitions of intelligence and life. Explain to conservatives that while ending an innocent human life is abhorrent, not everybody shares their view of what constitutes human life. The underlying principle of “Don’t kill unjustly” is at the heart of both these sentiments, there is a kernel of commonality that moderates can build on and establish real dialogue between opposing groups if they would only sit down and act like grown-ups instead of grandstanding in public and on the news about how evil the other side is. At the end of the day, if we’re going to build and maintain a functioning society, we need to talk to one another and reach agreements on any number of contentious topics, because if we don’t, things are going to get much worse before they start getting better.