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Johnson'14: The extinction of the moderate

While most coverage of the 2012 election focuses on Barack "You Didn't Build That" Obama and Mitt "Corporations Are People, Too" Romney, there is a monumental story that is getting almost zero media attention: the extinction of the moderate politician.

This election cycle marks the end of several notable moderate politicians' careers. Centrist senators Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Ben Nelson, D-Neb., Jim Webb, D-Va., Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, will all retire in January 2013.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, dozens of centrist candidates are in danger of losing their seats to challengers on the far left and right. U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, said that his decision to leave was fueled by the growing extremism on both sides. "Words like compromise have been like dirty words," he said upon announcing that he would not seek reelection.

These sad comments from a devoted public servant demonstrate the severity of the problem. Moderates are fleeing Washington because their voices are being drowned out by the screams of the Tea Party and the radical left. And just as our government is becoming more polarized, so, too, are the American people. A recent study showed that rates of "split-ticket" voting - voting for both Democrats and Republicans on the same ballot - have decreased dramatically since the 1980s.

So what's the big deal? Who cares that there are more liberals and conservatives in Washington, and less moderates?

The problem is that people on both extremes are unlikely to compromise. With increasing polarization, political parties become less like a gathering place for people with similar views and more like interest groups devoted to ideological purity. Anyone whose views stray from the party platform is in danger of punishment by party elders.

What's worse is that people from the opposing party are seen as enemies. When President Obama took office in 2009, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., proclaimed that his number one job was to make sure that Obama was a one-term president . Keep in mind that, at the time, the country was just beginning to recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and was in the midst of two wars. Rather than thinking about bringing our troops home safely, or creating jobs, McConnell was focused on taking down Obama.

Similarly, policies proposed by the opposite party, no matter how well crafted they may be, are automatically dismissed. There is no greater example of this than the much-maligned individual mandate in Obamacare. While Romney and the GOP lambast the policy as an assault on freedom, it was the conservative Heritage Foundation that came up with the idea for an insurance mandate - not to mention the fact that Obama's bill is modeled after the legislation that Romney signed into law as governor of Massachusetts. Despite Obamacare's similarities to reform efforts proposed by Republicans, it was a Democrat who signed the bill. Therefore, to Republicans, it is no longer good policy.

This reality, where party lines are insurmountable barriers and compromise is vilified, is nothing short of a crisis. In fact, George Washington would say it is downright un-American. Both parties like to quote the founders to back up their support for certain policies, but I've never heard House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi or Romney mention this line on political parties from Washington's farewell address: "The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge ... is itself a frightful despotism." 

Washington's words are 216 years old, but they speak to exactly what we are witnessing today. The American government is being hijacked by the extremists of both parties. Today's "do-nothing" government is exactly the type of frightful despotism against which Washington tried to warn us. The scariest part is what Washington said could come next.

He warned that the misery and dysfunction that result from hyper partisanship "gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction ... turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty."

And while the public liberty may not be on the verge of ruin, Washington's words should propel us into action. Moderates are the key to compromise in government. They build coalitions and allow government business to get done. I urge Brown students and members of the Brown community to support candidates who will put pragmatism over partisanship and won't be scared to compromise.

 

 

Garret Johnson '14 is a French civilization concentrator who supports Clint Eastwood's empty chair for reelection.


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