Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Extremism in the defense of moderation is no...

...oxymoron,  I guess.

I just remembered Brooks wrote most of yesterday's column five years ago, during the Obama-Romney contest, down to the reference to the Romanian-named political scientist who is at the current forefront of Moderation Studies. It seemed funnier then, and I thought I'd rerun the parody I did, just for fun.

Dim sum from China Max, San Diego.
David Brooks writes (27 October 2012):
Ever since the debate season began, Mitt Romney has been running hard after those moderate voters, lining out a new area of agreement with Obama at every turn. Obama, in contrast, has been disagreeing with Romney—but I took a look at the interview he inadvertently gave the Des Moines Register, which I thought was supposed to be scandalous, and found to my amazement that for the white and elderly-trending population of the Quad Cities he was peddling a fairly moderate agenda for the second term there. Evidently he's trying to keep his moderation quiet on the coasts, where it might cost him votes. And I figured that meant I would be able to hack together a column explaining what moderates are with only two tabs open on the browser, so here goes.

In the first place, moderation is not attained by establishing two extreme points on an opinion scale and then situating yourself at the midpoint between them. Anybody who thinks that is a helpless fool who should probably be enjoined from using a fork, really, if only for their own protection.

Nor is moderation some kind of abstract philosophical position, such as a person might learn about from reading Aristotle and committing herself to an abstract ideal of not being excessive in either direction. Only an idiot would say that. To understand moderation, in fact, you have to read history, and understand that America is a nation of immigrants whose parents worked hard and played by the rules so their children could go to college and graduate into a decent job; and a reverence for this country and the Founders who planned it that way.

What makes a good yoga mat? From
If you understand that history, which most people don't, you will understand that America is not an idea, but rather a collection of disagreements, like the choices on a Chinese menu, where you can get wonton soup, egg drop, or hot and sour; white rice or fried rice; and so on. In our menu of American political principle are the conflicts between collectivism and individualism, faith versus science, and the two-parent family against the one-parent family, just to name a few, and the moderate's task is to compose these into a simple and nutritious meal, minimizing the amount of MSG, and with attention to balance: for instance, if you've been having too much fried food lately, it's good to try some of the steamed fish; or the government should do something to get bowling alleys to open up very early in the morning so that married white men with children can join bowling leagues instead of being forced to study yoga and carry those silly mats to work.

Thus a moderate would never say that one should always cut taxes, as Republicans usually do, or that one should always raise them, which is what Democrats think. A moderate would say it depends on the situation: you shouldn't mess with taxes unless they are out of whack.

Nowadays, there is a good deal that is out of whack. Family structure is falling apart, globalization is running amok, and the information age has dawned, leaving people more unequal to each other than they ought to be, for reasons that I have covered in previous columns and will no doubt return to again. The cost of health care is rising through the roof. And the arteries of commerce have grown plaqued and sluggish, suggesting that American business is on its way to a massive myocardial infarction, a metaphor whose interpretation is too frightening to contemplate.

In order to solve these problems, a moderate would insist that you adopt a different principle for each, so that there would be enough principles to go around. Indeed one of the ways in which we are too unequal to one another nowadays is that some parties have been hogging the principles for themselves, leaving the others with no principles at all.

Being a moderate is no passive Goldilocks approach of rejecting one policy that is too hot and another that is too cold in favor of one that is just lukewarm. It takes plenty of athleticism, not to mention flexibility, to draw up a different set of principles for every problem. And it distrusts emotionalism: as Yeats said, the worst are full of passionate intensity, and the best are restrained and elegant like Edmund Burke, who was also Irish, as a matter of fact, or Alexis de Tocqueville.

If you've never heard of this kind of moderation it is probably because it is not a very well organized political persuasion, and doesn't lend itself to the writing of manifestoes. But it might well also be that you are outstandingly ignorant, and have never heard of Tocqueville scholar Aurelian Craiutu, whose new book, A Virtue for Courageous Minds: Moderation in French Political Thought, 1748-1830 is in my Kindle, and probably says much the same kind of thing as I am saying here, or at least its first chapter uses many of the same words.

If our presidential candidates want to appeal to the moderate vote they would be well advised to do the same.
Voters of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, contemplating Newt Gingrich, 2011. Photo by Patrick T. Fallon.

No comments:

Post a Comment