Campbell ’18: Radically moderate

Staff Columnist
Thursday, February 11, 2016

In the wake of the New Hampshire primaries especially, it seems that today there is little audience for moderate or centrist speech. Radical ideas are highly demanded on both sides of the aisle, and it would appear that gap is only widening. Why is it that we, as a nation, disagree so profoundly? Why is it that in the face of that disagreement, each side moves further from compromise?

Why is it that Bernie Sanders, a self-avowed socialist, can challenge one of the most well-known and respected political names of our time? Even if we set aside Trump as an inexplicable aberration of a candidate, we are still left with Ted Cruz as one of the frontrunners on the right, seemingly the embodiment of everything the GOP claimed to be moving away from after the 2012 campaign. How can this be?

Historians, including University of Tennessee Professor of History Daniel Feller, have claimed that our current Congress is the most dysfunctional since the pre-war period. Whoops, sorry — that’s the pre-Civil War period. In light of that, why are we doubling down on the ideology that has been driving us apart?

And we are doing exactly that. In 2008, Republicans pilloried Obama as a socialist, so we went out and found a real, live one to succeed him. After losing the 2012 election, many Republican politicians took a step back, and the party released a plan called the “Growth and Opportunity Project” outlining how it would change and adapt for a new generation. The plan aimed for “comprehensive immigration reform” and outreach to Hispanic and women voters. But come the next election, we support candidates that are climbing over each other to be seen as the toughest on immigration, regardless of the rhetoric they use when discussing immigrants themselves. In fact, not only did the Republican Party not follow through after 2012, but all the leading Republican candidates (Kasich, now surging, excluded) would have been seen as radical even then.

Ultimately, of course, politicians do what their base demands of them, especially in a primary season. So perhaps a primary season is not the time to complain about polarization. Furthermore, it seems understandable that we are being driven apart: Democrats and progressives, seeing gains on gay marriage and other issues, feel the momentum and are eagerly pressing for more. Republicans and tea-partiers, then, do not want a leader who can compromise, but one that will roll back the recent changes they oppose. And because the majority of these changes were related to social issues, there is even more ideology and even less room to compromise.

It is not the fact that we disagree that is bothersome. We should disagree. Only authoritarian states can agree all the time — debate is a crucial and necessary feature of republican government. Yet we have disagreed before, and we have still come to compromises. We have overcome larger challenges than the ones that we now face. I do not advocate that we stop working to enact the change that we each desire to see — I only ask that we lower our voices. I ask that we be brave and direct our speech outwards, across the aisle, instead of inwards to rally the base. And though I use polarizing candidates to make my point, I do not necessarily advocate that we only elect moderates. I believe that the demands held by both sides come from a true and honest concern for the state of our union, and I do not dismiss those who are unafraid to express their radical beliefs.

But, I do ask two things. One, we must understand that we cannot, that we will not, get all the change we desire. And two, without a dramatic demographic shift or an equally dramatic increase in cooperation, we will have very little change indeed.

Vaughn Campbell ‘18 can be reached at

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