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Is There Such a Thing as a True “Moderate”?

April 12, 2012

by J. Andrew Zalucky

Political pundits and journalists love to use sports metaphors. While I find most of these to be overused and stupid, there is one very useful exception. I think it was Mike Barnacle that came up with the idea of the political spectrum as a football field, a field were 80% of Americans fall between the 40-yard lines. I like this metaphor because it illustrated the level of nuance between differing positions and that you can still stand for something without being an extremist.

However, one thing I maintain is this: if you sit people down and really press them on what they value in terms of public policy, none of those people you speak to will ever land squarely on the 50-yard line. They don’t have to land on the end-zones of course, but they will be at least one yard to the left or the right.

Don’t like the metaphor? Think the two-side approach is too narrow? Well what if you thought of politics as a square instead, divided into 4 quadrants? Label them (going clockwise) “Socialist, Authoritarian, Conservative, and Liberal”, each square with its own portions determined by degree of ideological premise and intensity. This certainly gives you more options and a more dynamic approach, but I still maintain that no one will end up in the very center.

So when someone tells you “Oh, I’m just a moderate”, they really mean something else.

There was a time when I used this term and I know a lot of other people that tend to use it as well. I would say that the word is replacing one or more of the following statements:

– “I don’t like upsetting people”

– “I’m not really into politics, so I haven’t given it much thought”

– “I hate politics, so this is a way for me to evade the conversation”

– “Well I hate both extremes equally, so I don’t really want to label myself anywhere near them”

All totally reasonable sentiments. But, this doesn’t stop the word “moderate” from getting on my nerves. It’s like in discussions about religion when people give that ultimate passive-aggressive evasion: “Oh, I’m not really religious, but I’m really spiritual, you know what I’m saying bro?”

Yes I do, but that’s another discussion for another time.

What people are fear I think, is that if they put convictions out in the open, people will automatically think of them like the pundits we see yelling and screaming at one another on cable news. But as many of my own experiences have shown me, you can feel strongly about a set of issues and take a stand without being an enormous jerk. And if you’re not sure where you stand, then just say that you’re not sure!

It’s perfectly reasonable to just say “Centre-Right” or “Centre-Left”, instead of avoiding the topic altogether. In fact, just yesterday I was at a bar with my boss and I overheard a few guys talking about the upcoming presidential election. Turns out they were all hedge-fund people and all had landed on the consensus that Obama was going to be re-elected (and were actually leaning in his favor I might add). What resulted was a perfectly reasonable political discussion between total strangers. No one had to skirt the issue by saying “oh I don’t really have an opinion”, because we all had an understanding that we wanted the conversation to continue.

If more people understood that concept, maybe fewer people would feel the need to say “I’m just a moderate”.

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