The Paradoxical Necessity of an Immoderate Moderatism

In recent months there has been a fair amount of speculation among political observers regarding the possibility of an emerging moderate movement for political independence from the Democratic and Republican parties.  The evidence is difficult to ignore.  It seems like not a week goes by without any number of articles considering possible moderate, Independent candidates for president in 2012.  As perceived moderates are purged from both the Democratic and Republican parties, there is literally nowhere for them to go, except third party or Independent.  Lincoln Chafee won Rhode Island's gubernatorial race by running as a moderate Independent alternative to the stooges of the Democratic and Republican parties.  Moreover, in the very same race, the Moderate Party of Rhode Island secured enough votes to be assured ballot access in the state for the next four years.  In Maine Eliot Cutler came within two percentage points of winning the state's gubernatorial race following a very similar strategy to that of Chafee.  Earlier this year, the Centrist Party merged with the Modern Whigs with the aim of building a national moderate alternative to the Democrats and Republicans.   Jon Stewart billed his Rally to Restore Sanity as the Million Moderate March.  New groups like No Labels reject the failed politics of the Democratic-Republican two-party state.  And so on. 

Moderate and centrist bloggers have recently begun a discussion of the so-called "moderate brand," or rather, the lack thereof.  Late last month, at The Pragmatic Center, Nick Goebel asked, "Moderates: What is our brand?"  Goebel writes:
The biggest problem that voters have with moderates is that they seem to be “wishy-washy.”  Moderates never seem to have principles.  They sit on the fence playing politics instead of promoting the issues.  They lack character, decisiveness, and strength. . . . Conservatives market themselves as the small government, less taxes, free trade candidates.  Progressives market themselves as being on the side of the “average American” and utilizing government to help all people not just those at the top.  But what are we?  As moderates we are “wishy-washy.”  Not very appealing.  My opinion isn’t that we should “rebrand” ourselves; it’s that we never learned how to market ourselves in the first place.
In response, Solomon Kleinsmith at Rise of the Center notes that managing the perception of moderates "will be essential as the groundswell of moderates and centrist independents begins to coalesce into a movement in more places around the country."  It is difficult to quibble with Goebel's proposition that moderates cannot "re-brand" themselves because they never branded themselves in the first place.  Indeed, moderates have effectively allowed themselves to be defined by the dead-enders of the duopoly parties, the partisans of the Democratic and Republican political brands.  Self-described liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans each define themselves, first and foremost, in opposition to the other.  Secondarily, however, they position themselves against the moderates in their own parties, painting the latter as virtual turncoats, lacking character, decisiveness and strength. 

On this view, moderate Democrats are not "real" Democrats, they are Blue Dogs, Republicans in disguise.  Similarly, moderate Republicans are not "real" Republicans, they are RINOs, Republicans-in-name-only.  Insofar as the Democratic and Republican parties in particular, as well as Democratic-Republican party politics in general, are defined and controlled by their respective activist bases, this assessment should probably be considered correct.  If you consider yourself a moderate independent, for all intents and purposes, you cannot belong to the Democratic or Republican party.  How could things be otherwise if moderate independents are in fact marginalized by the process of Democratic-Republican party politics? 

If moderate, centrist independents want to rehabilitate their brand, as it were, they must cease to allow the advocates and supporters of the Democratic and Republican parties to define it for them.  They must take control of it for themselves, and, in addition, they must define their opposition.  The simplest and most straightforward way to accomplish both of these goals at one and the same time is to declare political independence from the Democratic and Republican parties and the politics of the two-party state. 

So long as Democratic-Republican party politics is definitive of politics as such, our politics will exclude and marginalize those who advocate moderation, centrism and independence.  Compromise between Democrats and Republicans does not equal moderation.  Their common solution to every problem is the further expansion of the global warfare and corporate welfare state.  The political center is not where the Democratic and Republican parties meet.  It cannot be, if only for the simple fact that the politics of the two-party state is radically decentered, because it is bipolar.  However, the partisans and proponents of the Democratic and Republican parties are unified in their opposition to moderation, centrism and political independence.  So long as moderates continue to provide political cover for the Democratic and Republican parties, until they offer alternatives to the reproduction of Democrat-Republican party government, they will in all likelihood be incapable of controlling their own political reputation, if not also their political destiny. 


Solomon Kleinsmith said...

Some great commentary going around about this lately. Nick's blog has a good debate going on in the comments section.

Ultimately we will be branded by how we act. So far, many people in the center of the electorate have in fact let the two ends of the spectrum walk all over us. Until that stops, no chance we're able to redefine ourselves.

Solomon Kleinsmith
Rise of the Center

Ross Levin said...

The problem, I find, with at least some moderates is that they accept the notion of the left/right spectrum being true, and that's why they're "moderate" - they are neither left nor right. However, there are plenty of options out there that make much more sense than the not quite commited, misguided disillusionment of centrism.

d.eris said...

Solomon, yeah that is a pretty good discussion going on over there, actually this post is really just an expansion of comments I left there a little while back.

And Ross, I think much the same can be said of Democrats and Republicans as well. They accept the bipolar political order, and reason that if they dislike the Democrats they must be Republicans and vice versa. As soon as one accepts the logic/ideology of the two-party state as uncontroversial, you have already lost the political battle.

Cranky Critter said...

I continue to believe strongly that "moderate" has much less utility for brand growth than "independent" does. Moderate connotes "everyone calm down" so it feels invalidating of dissatisfaction, which there's a lot of now.

It also connotes working within existing confines and making things work without worrying about making big changes. I REALLY don't think that's where the public's appetite lies.

In contrast, "independent" feels like it exactly expresses the way to successfully reject what the public is dissatisfied about.

By the way, I REALLY hope that we don't see a big showy viable moderate or independent candidate for President in 2012. Such an effort is likely to use up all the available air in a way that gives one big flash, and not a sustained burn.

I'd be much happier if the idea of an independent coalition centered on congress, on forming a viable caucus that was disruptive to 2-party dominance. After all, it's in congress where most partisan behavior really manifests.

Suppose we somehow elect an independent President while delivering another congress dominated by the 2 parties. How much is such a President without a legislative power base going to achieve?

If instead we manage to up the independents in the senate to 6, 7, 8, 10 or so, they have an impact on a daily basis when congress is in session. Same thing if we could get 20 or 30 independents in the house.

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

I don't like the term moderate either... independent is awful vague though, as it can apply to folks all across the spectrum, from centrist independents, to folks who are so off in left and right field that the two major parties are not extreme enough for them.

Centrist is the most accurate... I have a better one I've been cooking, but its a website I'm working on, so I can't talk about it yet :)

Solomon Kleinsmith
Rise of the Center

Ross Levin said...

I don't think centrist means anything, either.

d.eris said...

Ross, what's your take on groups like the Moderate Party of Rhode Island or the Modern Whigs then?

Lance S. Duncan said...

While your entry isn't recent, d.eris, it still provided me with some food for thought, and I figured I'd share my thoughts regarding the topic of labels.