It’s a legitimate question: Where did all the moderates go? And by moderates, I don’t mean the folks that every presidential campaign under the sun is going to be trying to court this year. Actually, the number of independent and moderate voters in America is on the rise and that’s probably happening, in part, due to the issues that I’d like to discuss here today. No, I’m talking about moderate politicians. Last week’s announcement by Sen. Olympia Snowe that she was not seeking reelection this year have made me reassess how fast the political center is vanishing in legislatures across this country. This isn’t just a GOP issue either, because moderate Democrats like Ben Nelson and Democratic independent Joe Lieberman have fallen by the wayside as well, and the casualties from each party have only been increasing over the years.
While partisans might say otherwise, losing the political center, whether it’s the rhetoric used or the politicians inhabiting it, would be a great blow to American politics. Legislatively, moderates pull their party closer to the attitudes of most Americans, help keep informal lines of communication between the two parties open even in the middle of open feuding, and, most importantly, work towards getting things done. Principled moderates are the sorts that work across party lines to avoid turning the more mundane aspects of government into a bloody political siege between hated opponents merrily invoking the buzzwords of the week loudly in front of the nearest camera. Acting like that tends to slow down the work of actually governing, especially when you’re in the weeds on issues such as infrastructure or emergency services. Yet, this is exactly what American citizens are seeing over and over again in Washington and other gridlocked legislatures across the county, and their displeasure at this turn of events is represented by Congress’s abysmal approval ratings. That is what happens when only the two opposing viewpoints of the extremes exist to debate each other; no common ground exists and therefore no respect is given to the other side.
It’s only become harder for those who try to inhabit that ‘No-Man’s land’ between two competing ideologies to get involved at any significant political level. Most who have that potential would rather sit out and not have to go through the extra stresses placed upon a moderate legislator finding themselves more beholden to their party and the primary voters in their district, rather than those who vote in the general. After all, the level of rancor in this country is so high that crossing across the aisle for just one vote can get someone labeled a traitor by their own base. It can get so bad that once any media attention is given to a bill, it’s assigned a ‘side’ and the other ‘side’ is now duty bound to prevent it from ever seeing the light of day. American legislators don’t find very many issues that they can publically come together on anymore, other than opposing child molestation or sex-trafficking. All this state of affairs does it make me depressed. It’s hard to offer solutions to something that’s been creeping up on us so slowly that it’s almost institutionally ingrained into our politics by now. But it does make me wonder that much more about how to get our moderates back.