Sunday, June 5, 2011

Stuck out of the middle

By Bill Kraus

The trouble with zealots, of course, is that they’re zealous. I’m sure they think that the trouble with moderates is that they are moderate, which they are.

There is an important distinction though.

The zealots seem to be more interested in advancing a cause than in running a country, state, or city than the moderates are.

The moderates are more interested in a government that works than the zealots seem to be.

Unfortunately the moderates have been pushed aside in recent years. UW prof and former candidate for Congress John Sharpless characterizes this development as the inmates taking over the institution with predictable results.

A kind of political trench warfare has broken out with the zealots in both trenches exchanging hand grenades and having a common goal only on those rare occasions when a moderate ventures into the no man’s land between the trenches. Then both sides direct their firepower at the moderate.

What this analogy translates into in political terms is a government where the smaller third party decides which way the power pendulum will swing.

In Wisconsin in the fall of 2010 the moderate middle opted for a change from the Democrats mostly-do-nothing eight years and the pendulum swung to the Republicans. The Republicans proved to be a lot more radical than the moderate middle expected or wanted. Their over-reaching agenda and action to enact that agenda set off a typically zealous reaction from the other zealots. More importantly it turned the moderate middle back toward the Democratic zealots.

What we have in the short term is recalls and protests and bullying with the zealots of the winter of their discontent starting to overplay their hand as well.

A mess.

What it bodes for the longer term is a predicted potential swing back to the other zealots who will then be free to overreach with their agenda and tactics and set the pendulum back in motion the other way.

What we will not get, of course, is a government that works.

What we will not get is compromise.

What we will get instead is demonization trying to pose as debate.

We will not get a government where compromise and debate between adversaries who see the world differently but, above all, want the part of the world where they rule to work.

The moderate middlers are no longer in charge. Nor are they numerous enough to take over center stage and marginalize the ever present and probably indispensable zealots while they cope and group their way to deciding what the role of government should be and how to pay for it.

That after all is what governing is about.

And that is what is missing in pendulum politics where those who are in power are beholden to and pandering to the zealots and their money and their screeching.

The moderates are pretty boring at times, but I do miss them. They do one other thing that I like as well. They give politics and politicians a good name which both the trade and its practitioners badly need.

What was and can be again was on view a few miles from the besieged Capitol recently. A current Democratic U.S. senator, a former Republican governor, and a sitting state Supreme Court justice were participants, along with family members and friends, in a memorial service which honored the former Portage County district attorney, Democratic state senator, Supreme Court justice and citizen Bill Bablitch. Everybody wasn’t there. It just seemed that way. The large and diverse crowd was stirred by the speeches and the recollections and clearly enjoyed each others’ company.

Follow Bill Kraus on:
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Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board

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