Monday, December 12, 2011

The moderate's dilemma

By Bill Kraus

Judging from the ideas being forwarded and the appeals being made by candidates today it is easy to conclude that the moderates are being marginalized at best, ignored at worst.

Candidates who had the problem of being attractive enough to win the primaries, where immoderates and immoderation are disproportionately represented, without poisoning the general election well don’t appear to be worried about that as much anymore.

Those who vote in primaries are no longer regarded as a stepping stone to the general election. They have become the main event.

This is not surprising at the legislative level, where partisan redistricting has made most general elections irrelevant. Statewide and even presidential candidates are behaving as if that is true in their elections as well. 

Candidates who were trying to win nominations in primaries where “the base” and the once taken-for-granted yellow dogs (a yellow dog for the uninitiated is a Republican who would vote for a yellow dog before he would vote for a Democrat, and vice versa) had to be careful not to go so far off to the right or left that they couldn’t get back to the middle to win those crucial votes in the general election. They don’t seem to worry about that anymore.

The Republican moderates of an earlier time believed that the public sector had a legitimate role to play in society, but not the lead role. They liked frugality and competence and were mildly libertarian. They were regulation averse but not anarchistic. They were leery of flights of fancy like wars on poverty and they were wary not cavalier about using the military as instruments of policy.

As the battle for power shifted to the primaries, subtleties like these have given way to behavioral issues, polarization, partisanship, my way or no way, and the whole gestalt of the true believers who are more sure of everything than moderates tend to be of anything.

I happen to believe that the moderates are still there and in numbers significant enough to determine election results statewide, and in the few remaining congressional and state legislative districts that are not hard-wired for candidates of one party or the other.

These moderates are, in short, still worth catering to and worrying about. They are not wedded to conservative ideologies. They do not think that any one thing is the whole thing. They adhere to the Ed Koch rule: ”If you agree with me on 9 out of 12 issues, you should vote for me. If you agree with me on all 12, you should see a psychiatrist.” They do not use litmus tests. They do not suffer fools or foolish ideas.

I still think that the biggest political risk is not offending the single-issue zealots or the rabid “base” voter. The biggest risk is chasing away the mild, moderate, more reasoned and reasonable voters in the middle who want nothing more complicated than a government that works and candidates who will use the powers of their offices to achieve that worthy end.

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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