Moderation in politics might make comeback

During this holiday season, which brings us happy thoughts of peace on earth and goodwill toward all men (and women), I'd like to issue a plea for moderation in all things political. Although you (and Rush Limbaugh) might call me a wishy-washy moderate, I want to reiterate a message I delivered in my first Appeal column in June 1996.

In that column, I condemned the "in your face" politics featured on ratings-driven cable TV talk shows with rival politicians shouting each other down in a loud barrage of accusations and insults - sort of an "I'm right and you're wrong" approach to political discourse. I noted that the talk shows, "along with various forms of tabloid and 'gotcha' journalism, help to set the tone for our national political debate," and went on to urge journalists and talk show hosts to turn down the volume.

"Unless all of us clean up our acts," I wrote, "more and more voters will be turned off by politics as usual, and a small minority of voters - many of them single-issue fanatics - will elect the politicians ... who will make vital decisions affecting the lives of our children" and grandchildren. I still feel the same way more than nine years later.

I was reminded of the civility-in-politics theme by a recent column authored by my favorite political columnist, the Washington Post's respected David Broder, who's been covering national politics for more than 40 years. In a column titled "The Political Center's Comeback," Broder observed that "the people in the political center, the moderates, have regained their voice and are reasserting themselves." I hope he's right.

"Beginning in the mid-1990s ... American politics was dominated by a notion that Republicans had found the key to mobilizing their voter base on issues of taxes and conservative social beliefs," he wrote. "In response, Democrats went back to their base - pro-government constituencies and liberal interest groups - to mount a resistance effort. In the past decade, national elections became largely contests to see which side could turn out more of its committed partisans" based on "highly emotional appeals." That's what I've seen as a local election worker since 1996.

Both sides succeeded in 2004, Broder continued, as Democrat John Kerry "far outran Al Gore's 2000 vote but lost because George W. Bush improved on his own first run by even larger numbers. But the cost was that increasing numbers of middle-of-the-road voters felt the choices they were being offered weren't what they wanted." I hereby confess that I was among those frustrated voters forced to choose between Kerry and Bush - tweedle-dee and tweedle-dumb, respectively. And now, given the mess in Iraq and the in-your-face politics and corruption scandals currently plaguing Washington, I'm thoroughly disgusted with the whole bunch of 'em.

I'm old enough to remember when leaders of both major parties consulted each other regularly in an effort to develop a truly bipartisan foreign policy. Those days are long gone, however, as party leaders continually engage in name-calling and the politics of personal destruction.

I'm saddened to see Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, playing that destructive game as his party's chief spokesman in Washington. At heart, I still believe that my friend (?) Harry is relatively moderate but some of his recent statements are cause for concern as he continues to participate actively in the ugly game of politics as usual. And some of his left-wing colleagues make Reid sound like a centrist wimp as they call for an immediate pullout from Iraq.

As Broder sees it, "The frustrated center has finally rebelled" for a number of valid reasons including "a war in Iraq that no one seems to know how to win or how to end," runaway federal spending, "inaction on large problems that hurt families," and "a pervasive sense that partisanship for its own sake rules Washington."

But last month at least 22 moderate House Republicans balked at cutting programs for poor people and at opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Middle-of-the-road Republicans also "nudged the Bush administration to reverse itself on encouraging pay at less than prevailing local wages for Hurricane Katrina reconstruction" and the Republican-controlled Senate voted 79-19 to urge the president to outline a strategy for "the successful completion of the mission" in Iraq.

I consider all of these recent developments to be hopeful, positive signs that many of the politicians who represent us in Washington are beginning to think for themselves rather than blindly following the dictates of a partisan White House or entrenched party leaders.

"Republican moderates come mainly from suburban districts ... that supported Bush in 2004," Broder wrote, "but turned against Republican candidates and causes" on Nov. 8, when Democrats elected governors in New Jersey and Virginia "by sweeping the suburban areas where independent voters place a high value on education and the environment, and are socially tolerant." I identify with those mainstream values and will take them into consideration when I vote in next year's mid-term elections, and hope you'll do the same regardless of your party affiliation.

KUDOS to the Carson City Planning Commission for rejecting a Combs Canyon housing development proposed by a developer who hired a Los Angeles attorney to threaten the city with legal action unless his "affordable housing" project was approved. I applaud the Appeal editorial that deplored the developer's attempted blackmail.

n Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a moderately conservative Nevada Democrat.


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