Monday, June 26, 2006

Up For Grabs: In Praise of Moderates

Since deciding I could no longer walk in lock-step support with the leaders of the Republican Party, I've felt a tremendous sense of political empowerment. It's probably the biggest reason why I've recently dedicated a lot more energy to blogging.

At the risk of over-simplification and offending the political scientists, I believe the direction of American politics ultimately falls to the determination of that 20% of the voting pool ubiquitously termed "moderate." Over periods of time, this pool may change its location, shape, and even its priorities. But as far back as I can see, and as long as we have this republic, it will be that 20% with the final say.

What exactly is a moderate? Is it someone who falls right of left or left of right? That's too confusing and instinctively I know it can't be a fitting description. Rather, I think a better definition is much simpler. More than any other quality, I think moderates are those who put their votes (or even whether they will vote) up for grabs.

From that description come the insults. Whether it be Rush Limbaugh on the right or Al Franken on the left, the loser of the competition for the moderate's vote will accuse the moderate of standing for nothing. That's right. The "Reagan Democrats" who made the Gipper one of our most effective and popular leaders apparently stood for nothing. And that same group - the very same voters who grew dissatisfied with those who inherited Reagan's legacy and supported an outsider named Bill Clinton while still trusting Republicans with the power of the purse in Congress - is accused of being without principle simply because they reserve the right to change their political minds.

I don't see it that way. While I'm confident that an appraisal of my own opinions would earn the label "right of center," I too have put my vote up for grabs. So does this mean that I now stand for nothing? Are my otherwise conservative thoughts on spending, defense, crime, and taxes now invalid because I may vote for Bill Nelson over Katherine Harris? No. I think it merely means that for the first time in my life, I want to be part of that 20% who will determine the result of an election.

In two previous elections I failed to vote for the Zell Miller for the sole reason that he had pledged to vote for Tom Daschle as Senate Majority Leader. I have come to view this decision as a mistake and am glad my fellow Georgians did not follow my lead. In fact, this was a prime example of when I should've put my vote up for grabs and realized that one letter cannot encompass a person's political worth.

I'll conclude with a personal note. Since getting married a few years ago, my wife and I decided we'd always vote the same ballot. Upon doing so, we felt an equal sense of empowerment because we each controlled 2 votes. If I had voted for Bush in 2004 while Dana voted for Kerry, in spite of the worthiness of casting our votes, we would have indeed offset our choices in both state and national tallies.

I now feel the same way about the camps on the left and right wings in this sharply divided political climate. It will be the 20% that again determines who controls Congress later this year. And I may not be able to stomach voting for Nelson afterall. I don't know yet. But I do know that this time I'm fine with being one of those moderates.


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