Thursday, June 29, 2006

Moderation schmoderation

This is not exactly a response to Big Daddy Jeff, as I have been sitting on writing this post for about four months, and strictly speaking this is not about moderates. But, at least he (and mouldfan) did motivate me to finally get to typing this out.

I come to bury moderates, not praise them.

There's a lot of crap that gets my blood boiling. The New York Times' treasonous actions, people who stand to the left on the elevator on the Metro, liberal Catholics, and people who think Derek Jeter is a better player than Alex Rodriguez - all bug the hell out of me. But there's nothing more annoying than a person who claims to be a moderate in the blogosphere. Most of the time - though certainly not all - the person's claims to moderation are nothing more than a sanctimonious attempt to sound smarter than all those "ideologues on the left and right." You see, Mr. Moderate doesn't confine himself to the left or right. Oh no, they take each issue as they come, and they form independent judgments. They're not weighed down by one particular ideology or the other.

Bullshit. Anyone who takes the time to comment on a political blog, or vote, or in any other way shows interest in political affairs has an ideological bias. It might not be a bias that the individual concerned is aware of, and it might not exactly fit into the categories that we normally assign to left and right, but make no mistake, we ALL have political biases.

The statistical evidence proves my point. Over 70% of people who claim to be "independents" routinely vote for the same political party in every election. Normally statistical evidence is used to backup anecdotal evidence and not the other way, but just for a second ask yourself how many "independents" do you know that always seem to vote for the same party? Oh sure, they talk a big game, but when it comes time to pull the lever they have a mysterious way of voting in the same way they did before.

Now, you're probably objecting that I'm conflating the term moderate and independent, and no doubt that's true. But the terms are often used interchangeably in today's political discourse. Putting that aside for the moment and taking the term moderate on its own, I must ask, what does the term even mean? Is it a person of the center? But if that's the case, what exactly is the center? Is it a person whose political positions are halfway between the right and left? But considering the diffusion of interests on the right and left, who can identify what the center is? Take the bloggers on the Political Spectrum. What person truly represents the middle? Big Daddy would claim that mantle, but couldn't it be argued that in many ways he's further to the right of Gipper Clone and I?

Perhaps the problem is inherent to the concept of a right-left dichotomy to explain political ideology. But what I'm getting at is, even if you want to break down the political cleavage into two distinct camps, there's enough internal disagreements within each camp to muddy the waters. Both John Podhoretz and I are of the "right," but we're clearly divergent in many ways. So which one of us is to the right of the other?

But I'm wandering far afield of my main point, which is this: we all have our fundamental political biases. I generally disdain psychological explanations of political action, but psychology might be the best explanation of this phenomena. I believe that just about everyone who seriously thinks about politics has certain ideological predispositions. There might be a broader spectrum of views than our current liberal-conservative divide, but that's not really important. We all tend to have a certain reflex attitude to issues. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have an at least subliminal reaction to any bit of news. Our minds race to fit that bit of information into the way we normally view political affairs.

We're all ideologues. Our ideologies might not exactly match, but we possess them. It's simply an admission of reality. I am not speaking negatively - I obviously consider myself a conservative ideologue. But I can admit my bias, unlike so many who pat themselves on the back and call themselves moderate.

In fact I often find that the most narrow-minded ideologues are the ones who call themselves moderates. All one has to do is read the comments section at St. Blogs and see those that pipe in disparaging both the right and left. These commenters like to pontificate against both sides, and yet almost to a man they take pretty much the same position on all issues. For example, it's settled fact that the Iraq War was unjust. Any argument against goes in the dustbin because, hey, you're just a blind Bush supporter, and speaking of Bush, he's a bumbling idiot who is a lying dictator, blah blah blah. Oh yeah. You're a moderate. And I'm a Yankees fan.

The question is not whether or not we're truly ideologues, but whether we let our ideology control us. Being open-minded does not mean listening to both arguments before making a decision - let's face it, no one really does that (for the most part). We have a default setting, and all being open-minded means is being willing to be persuaded by other arguments. We're not blank slates, but we can have our minds changed. If you're open-minded.

The real threat comes not from ideology or ideologues, but usually from the self-professed non ideologues who seem incapable of being persuaded by fact, logic or reason. Again, look at St. Blogs. I was attacked by a supposed moderate on Mark Shea's blog because of my position on immigration. My interlocutor never really addressed my arguments, but instead took refuge in comparing me to a Klansman. I attempted to dialog with said individual, but he just dug in, unable to come to terms with the fact that someone could legitimately have a different opinion than he did. But he was a moderate.

Paleo-conservatives are much the same. No, they don't pretend to be moderates, but rather the usually claim to be upholders of the Burkean tradition of non-ideology. The rest of the political universe are made up of ideologues. These folks pretend to be it above it all. And yet there is no more ideological intransigent individual than a paleo-conservative. For example, they have decided that long ago that the war in Iraq was unjust, largely based on a conviction that any foreign interventionism is wrong. And oh, by the way, have they told you about the neocons? Now, that's surely not to say that all opposition or even conservative opposition to the war is of this nature, but the Buchananites checked out long ago, and they had no intention of ever being persuaded by the facts. Instead, they are driven by an archaic and immoveable conviction about foreign policy that is only dimly related to reality.

Libertarians also generally put abstract idealism ahead of all facts. Thomas Paine once wrote of Burke that he pities the plummage but forgets the dying bird. It was as close to an accurate charge as Paine ever made against Burke, though still ultimately wrong. But to me that phrase is a clever alternative to "missing the forests for the trees." Libertarians are ever vigilent to protect their ideological purity, no matter how abstract. Liberty is an absolute value, no matter what the cost. But as Burke once wrote, "Is it because liberty in the abstract may be classed amongst the blessings of mankind, that I am seriously to fecilitate a madman, who has escaped from the protecting restraint and wholesome darkness of his cell, on his restoration to the enjoyment of light and liberty?" Libertarians often seem more concerned about the abstract value of liberty, never seeming to consider that there might be occasions that call for some curtailment of liberty. They so prise liberty in the abstract that they would ultimately give up the Nation rather than in any way violate their absolutist principles.

I can respect that on some level. But we cannot be blinded by ideology that we never for a moment consider occasions for temperance of said ideology. Rigid ideological dogmatism in the political realm is no value. But neither is it a value to pretend to be something you are not. All of us, on one level or another, have our ideological biases. It is silly to pretend otherwise. Just because you can be open to other points of view does not negate the fact that you're going to be inclined to some way of thinking. Being open minded does not equal being a moderate. It doesn't because, when you boil it all down, moderates are like male-friendly lesbians - they don't exist.


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