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The Cardus Daily

A Moderate Moment

John Seel  |  September 5, 2012  |  Culture, Institutions, Leadership, Politics

An oft-quoted adage in Washington is that “moderates have no mailing lists.” Consequently, partisanship rules.

And yet in this contested election, moderates are in control of the election. The Republicans moderated their Tea Party rhetoric during their Convention to appeal to the undecided independents or the “disappointed” Obama supporters—those with glue still on their car bumpers. It will be interesting to watch how the Democrats handle the same challenge this week as they hold their convention in North Carolina, a state that recently affirmed a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. Will they be able to keep the SPs (“secular progressives”) under wraps to appeal to the masses? National elections are won from the centre—when voters in Des Moines and Toledo are more important than Los Angeles and New York. Moderates, high in demand this political cycle, are being given a rare national voice.

That rarity is why fictional newsman Will McAvoy on Aaron Sorkin’s HBO TV series The Newsroom is so fascinating. McAvoy is an outspoken, left-leaning moderate—a registered Republican, yet a clarion voice for independents. His troubled efforts at journalistic integrity and “balanced” reporting create the dynamic in the show. McAvoy decries his party being hijacked by the Tea Party, a group he disparagingly describes as the “American Taliban.” But his distain for casual lies by politicians and pundits of all stripes captures the cynicism and frustration many moderates have with the political process.

I don’t speak or write often about politics. It’s not in a moderate’s nature to do so. I believe that culture is a generally more important field of conflict than politics, and I place my energy there. Yet over the course of the first season of The Newsroom, I found myself identifying more with the fictional Will McAvoy than with Fox’s Sean Hannity or MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

Moderates are not a unified voting block—some lean left, others right. Some focus on economic issues, some on social issues. But they do represent a growing number who distain the rhetorical ignorance, partisan posturing, and casual lying that has come to dominate the reported political process. In August, Gallup reported that 83% of Americans disapprove of the job being done by Congress. So with all the hoopla and airtime being given the national political conventions, moderates like myself have to wonder if it is really much ado about nothing. Under these conditions, one is naïve to think that either party will make much difference in the state of our political gridlock and shortsighted, anemic leadership. The air is out of the “hope and change” balloon.

Politics is interesting mainly as high-priced blood sport entertainment. We don’t expect much more than Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair. It was no different four years ago when WWF star Dwayne Johnson (“The Rock”) introduced Dick Cheney at the Republican National Convention. Populism wins elections, and so it is that the President has tactically released the White House beer recipe just prior to his Convention, highlighting the fact that Romney as a Mormon is a teetotaler. How better to identify with “Joe Six-Pack”?

When the parties abandon Kardashian-like campaigning, moderates will start listening again.

It is image-based, celebrity-driven, shallow politics that drives moderates away from the voting booth. Gravitas about life and reality drives one to the centre. Most certainly there are pivotal issues on which people of goodwill disagree, but there is a growing political middle, comprised of those who understand that the complexities of reality are not solved by simplistic platitudes, celebrity endorsements, and Lee Greenwood flag waving. It is only hubris that imagines that any person has a corner on truth. Humility, embracing paradox, and a willingness to work with others for the common good is the heart beat of moderates. Their day in the sun is long overdue.

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