Pete Seeger tells us “Moderation in all things, even moderation.” A useful motto in many situations. For instance, my friend Mike the Mad Biologist rightly criticizes hackish pundits, and hackish politicians, for Compulsive Centrist Disorder, the belief that the true answer to any question must lie halfway between the positions being advocated, regardless of what those positions are, and where that midpoint happens to lie.
We might call this an extremist form of moderation.
Moderation is a sticky issue in the culture wars these days. Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins expend a good deal of effort explaining why religious moderates are bad – just as bad – as religious extremists. The Club for Growth has started running ads boosting the primary campaign of former Congressman Jim Ryun, attacking his slightly more moderate opponent, just as they targetted moderate Republicans in many Congressional races in years past.
Some times both forms of anti-moderation get combined, as with efforts to purge pro-choice Republicans (see Ned Ryun’s recent example of that rhetoric, or the string of high-profile defections from the Kansas Republic Party).
I’m inclined to take a moderate position on moderates. I judge people by what they do, not the label they wear. At least one moderate member of the Kansas Board of Education has described herself as a creationist. Carol Rupe speaks frankly about her belief in God’s hand in the creation of the world, and holds that science explains how that happened. She votes against creationist curriculum standards because she doesn’t want to impose her religious views on others. I agree, as do most religious moderates who I’ve heard address that point. Their moderation consists in separating personal ideology from the authoritarian impulse of the extremist. People can believe what they like, and science class should be about science.
On the other hand, moderate Republicans tend not to differ from extremists at key moments. In a vote on a bill that would make it easier for workers to initiate the process of unionizing a shop, only one Republican crossed party lines – Arlen Specter. Undoubtedly Republicans will point out that moderate Democrats didn’t cross party lines on this issue, but moderate Republicans tend to align with those moderate Democrats at least partly by claiming to be more worker-friendly, a claim which didn’t survive an actual test: “once again we see that Oregon’s Smith, Minnesota’s Coleman, New Hampshire’s Sununu, and Maine’s Collins all sided against the rights of workers to organize.”
How do you tell who your allies are and who your enemies are? “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves,” cautions Matthew the Evangelist. “You will know them by their fruits.” The fruits of religious moderates are pluralistic and inclusive. The fruits of moderate Republicans are an endless occupation of Iraq, barriers to organized labor and a Supreme Court that censors students and privileges its own medical opinion over that of doctors and their patients.