Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Moderate Republicans; Velvet Stalinists

Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.
                                               Oscar Wilde
Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.
                                               Barry Goldwater
Who could be against moderation in one’s personal habits and conduct?  People are usually better off by not doing too much or too little of life’s basics – eating, drinking, exercising, relaxing, etc.   The “mean” was a centerpiece of Aristotle’s ethics – best is a life somewhere in a midway between excess and deficiency.  “Moderation” thus in most any conversation comes with approval and commendation. Extremes are dangerous: extremists are disagreeable and obnoxious.
The word “moderation” applied to an individual’s action or habits both describes and approves of what he does.  A “moderate” drinker is approved of because he habitually hits the proper balance of enjoying the pleasures of a toxic substance with the disciplined, limited (measured) intake of it so as to avoid intoxication and damage to his health.   Pleasure, sobriety and good health are all good things and moderation in this example is what brings these all together in a piece. There is no exact amount of consumption that can describe moderate drinking – “moderation” is inevitably and usefully imprecise and somewhat relative – because circumstances and people are endlessly variable.   
In discussions of politics, however, beware of moderation!  “Moderation” when applied to politicians collapses completely into partisan approbation disguised as analysis and description.  Political pundits and commentators, for example, routinely speak of “moderate Republicans,” a locution they employ to distinguish those so designated from other Republicans – who are what?  “Extreme,” “right-wing,” “radical,” “out-of-the-mainstream.” Moderate Republicans are, in effect, good Republicans, that is, ones that the pundits and commentators approve of.
What then is a “good Republican”?  A good Republican is a Republican who resembles or talks like a Democrat.   The supposed description contained in the phrase “moderate Republican” is really nothing more or less than disguised approval.   The pundit highly approves of Democrats and thus those who insist on distinguishing themselves from Democrats merit approval only insofar as they resemble Democrats.   When the “moderate Republicans” like John McCain or Jon Huntsman compete against other Republicans they are as “moderate Republicans” objects of high praise for the mainstream commentators, but when they eventually come to joust with Democrats, then…well… they are just Republicans and as such members of an inferior, discredited political caste who must then endure the riffs of condescension, derision and contempt from the inhabitants of the fourth estate.
This ideological and partisan use of moderation favored by our mainstream political commentators and reporters is routinely pointed primarily against Republicans and is evidenced by the fact that one rarely if ever encounters the mention of “moderate Democrats.”  If so, who are they?  Who then are the Democrat “extremists” who are distinct from them and who merit the kind of disapproval showered upon Republican “extremists”?   
There are no “moderate Democrats” as distinct from other ones because all Democrats are by nature balanced, reasoned, and above all, moderate.  Thus while there may be some variation among them relative to particular policy, no Democrat will be labeled “extreme” because to be extreme is to be other than a Democrat, outside of that virtuous orbit.  This point can be made with a question:  if President Obama is a “moderate Democrat”, who in the Party represents the extremists on the Left?   
Edward Kennedy as measured on the ideological spectrum was far on the Left region of the Party but at some point in his career he achieved apotheosis and was treated by the mainstream media a pillar of political rectitude, sound reason and moderation. There is some irony in this given Senator Kennedy’s conspicuous lack of moderation in his personal life – his alcoholism, womanizing and abandonment of a young woman companion to drown in the back seat of his car while he conferred with his political handlers.
Since the Kulturkampf of the 1960s pushed American culture to the Left and with it the entire Democrat party, its leading constituents now are composed of teacher unions, trial lawyers and Hollywood actors and directors. The culture-shaping institutions including the universities, the entertainment industry and the media are now dominated by an ideology of collectivism and thus the Democrats as the party increasingly of the Left has established its politics as “the norm” and its candidates as uniquely virtuous, empathetic and rational.  If you are not a Democrat, you are “abnormal,” which is translated by the pundits into the more specific attributes of stupid, mean and greedy.   No longer do the Democrats call themselves “liberals”; they are now “progressives” and since “progress” must be good and what any normal person would desire, non-progressives must be out of touch reactionaries who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them…”

The “moderate “Republican” subterfuge by the contemporary Left is a small part of its practice of “velvet Stalinism”.  Velvet Stalinists share the same premise as their pioneering iron-fisted precursors – power is not to be shared nor critics respected or spared.  President Obama in an unguarded moment made this premise explicit during the 2010 congressional campaign in an interview with Univision when he said: “[W]e're gonna punish our enemies, and we're gonna reward our friends ...”   Politics for Stalinists, iron-fisted and velvet, alike, is war. The object thus is to destroy the opposition because it is responsible for all the malignancies that plague society.  In those early days when Stalin was building the socialist workers paradise, the dissenters and unenthused were physically removed from political competition – shot or sent to the Gulag.
Today’s Stalinists not possessing quite the monopoly of force as the General Secretary of the CPSU, deal with their competitors by simply pronouncing them to be unfit, thus there is no obligation have to contest their criticism or ideas.  Nor should they have to since they are by definition “out of the mainstream.”  The competitors are assigned to realm of the stupid, the greedy, the mean-spirited, Fascists, Nazi’s and racists, categories that mean that the opposition should be taken seriously except as a pathological aberration.     
Moderation is wonderful, but it is meaningless in politics.