It wasn’t so long ago that I considered myself a moderate and there’s a part of me that still believes that that’s what I am. But whenever I think about moderates and political moderation, especially in our current context, I’m no longer sure I know what that means.
I used to have a definition in my mind: a moderate is someone who honestly considers genuine, good-faith proposals from both left and right and does not believe in any kind of political extremism. That’s kind of the Platonic ideal of being a moderate, and somewhere in the past it was a great place to stand.
But that doesn’t appear to be what “moderate” means anymore.
Since 2016 blew up American politics, a whole new set of criteria has started to define where we all stand on the political spectrum. There’s less room for moderation when facing questions like whether insurrections are good, actually, while voting is bad. To try to stake out a claim in the middle today feels like wandering into No Man’s Land during World War I, a desolate place of craters, barbed wire, and ghosts.
And let’s face it, it’s hard to be a moderate when one major political party has almost entirely stopped acting in good faith.
Here’s an example. Connecticut Senate Republicans recently released a proposal to address juvenile crime called, “A Better Way to a Safer Connecticut.” Put aside for a moment, and just a moment, whether there really is some kind of juvenile crime wave in Connecticut. This proposal, on first look, has some pretty good ideas in it like next-day court dates for juveniles, workforce development programs and a housing reform that requires LLCs that rent housing to identify at least one real person involved.
But there’s also a section on law enforcement that undoes some of the 2020 police reform law and there’s another piece in the housing section that would remove some kind of barrier to two-parent households. Maybe these things are very well-intentioned and come from an honest place of wanting to make Connecticut better instead of being some kind of red meat for their base. In a better world, I’d be inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.
But this is a Republican proposal from the here and now. How do we separate out honest proposals from the deep cynicism, toxic politics and constant culture-war mindset of the modern GOP?
Add on the fact that the entire premise Republicans are pushing – that the state is in the middle of some kind of crime wave – is a disingenuous stretch at best, and there’s just no way to consider this an honest proposal. There’s no middle ground here, only posturing for 2022; it’s self-interested opportunism dressed up as moderation.
Democrats have this kind of problem, too. Some Democratic moderates are like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., two “moderates” whose only purpose is to gleefully block things the rest of their party wants to do for their benefit.
In Connecticut we know this play very well; it’s the old Joe Lieberman special. Right now Sen. Manchin is blocking desperately needed money for climate change because his state produces coal. Remember when Joe Lieberman blocked the public option for Obamacare because his state had all the insurance companies? Same deal. Both Lieberman and Manchin get what they really want, which is attention and corporate donor dollars.
How is this being a moderate? It’s more like being an internet troll than anything else.
Then there are moderates who are happy to talk the talk on social justice, anti-racism, and equality, but who don’t always walk the walk. I’m thinking here of Gov. Ned Lamont’s refusal to consider taxing the rich, for instance, and Fairfield County Democrats who are firmly against zoning reform. Is this moderation or more self-interest?
No wonder progressives are so frustrated. Moderates can be negotiated with, but the cynical, the contrarian and the self-interested have no reason to give a single inch.
Maybe the true definition of a moderate is the old saying, “All things in moderation, moderation included.” I think most moderates moved to the left or to the right over the past five years or more as the middle ground became more and more untenable. It’s impossible for any kind of real, right-thinking moderate to have stayed on the fence when the crises facing the country and the world became so acute and dangerous. At some point, staying on the sidelines is essentially the same as supporting the worst people in politics. We passed that point long ago.
Maybe one day it will be possible to be a moderate again, but not any time soon. In the meantime, beware the snake oil salesmen promising a middle road that no longer exists.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.