There’s a lot of hand-wringing going on in the body politic about the lack of moderates in Congress and the Legislature. There’s also a lot of talk about the need for and the potential viability of a third party that could become home for the vast middle lane of American voters.
We’ve seen national movements, such as America Votes, form to bypass the presidential primary process to instead connect candidates to voters who either are not enrolled in a party or less than enthusiastic about their party. America Votes will hold an online convention; a stipulation of the group is that voters pick a presidential nominee of one party and a vice presidential nominee of the other.
In Maine we have seen the rise of the OneMaine group which seeks to join people of all political orientations in solving the state’s problems. Rather than sort people according to their adherence to a rigid set of political values, OneMaine wants to create a roundtable discussion of the issues. Recently, former independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler spoke at the Legislature’s moderate caucus — a group many may not have known existed.
Sen. Olympia Snowe’s decision to forgo her re-election bid, citing the bitter partisan fights she has had to endure in these last few of her 33 years in Congress, stirred our collective yearning for moderate leaders.
The call for moderates is popular, but it may not be clearly understood by many who nod their assent at the idea. It doesn’t mean — or shouldn’t mean — a lack of conviction.
Many of our pressing, impending big problems, such as the shortage of petroleum fuels, ballooning Social Security and Medicare recipients, the federal debt — have led intelligent, thoughtful people to conclusions about which they are passionate. These views may spring from deeply held values, not rigid ideology.
If the number of moderates in Congress increased, would that create a sort of mushy middle? More representatives who can see both sides of most issues certainly would improve the discourse. But if they were wishy-washy about important decisions, not much would be gained. No, it’s not about moderation. It’s something else.
At the heart of this need for less polarity is to have representatives reflect the political nature of ordinary people.
Most Americans do not adhere, lock-step, to a party platform. A woman may abhor the idea of someone having an abortion but accept the idea of same-sex marriage. A man might believe the U.S. should respond with strong force against countries that threaten our national interest, but also believe taxes should be raised on millionaires. Both may like the idea of single-payer, universal health care yet oppose the bail out of Detroit auto manufacturers.
These are not contradictions. People are complicated. Their views reflect their varied life experiences, their independent thought, their willingness to give such diverse people as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush a chance to run the country.
This mix of strong, but diverse views is seen in third-party candidates. Consider Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico, who, after being excluded from GOP presidential debates is now seeking the Libertarian Party nomination. He believes marijuana should be legalized and the drinking age lowered. He opposes U.S. wars in the Middle East. Yet he also wants to cut federal spending, cut taxes and in general, restrain federal intervention in the economy.
These are not moderate views. But they are refreshingly free from the rigidity of party platform. Should Gov. Johnson somehow beat the odds and be elected, he likely would engage Congress and the American people in vigorous debate on these positions. The ideas, not the party from which they sprung, would be front and center. That’s the middle way we need.