justin salters

Justin Salters

We live in fragmented and polarized times. Our political fringes have become mainstream, and the centrists have been pushed to the periphery.

While the fringe believes that warrior radicalism – be it conservative or progressive – is the answer to our nation’s problems, moderates believe our solutions start with the end of warrior radicalism.

In “What Moderates Believe,” columnist David Brooks writes that in contrast to ideological radicalism, moderation is, in fact, not an ideology. Rather, it’s a way of processing the complexities of modern life.

“Moderates do not see politics as warfare,” Brooks writes. “Instead, national politics is a voyage with a fractious fleet. Wisdom is finding the right formation of ships for each specific circumstance so the whole assembly can ride the waves forward for another day.”

Moderates believe that not one of us has a monopoly on answers to our political questions. Politics is dynamic and constantly unfolding, rather than a debate that can be settled once and for all. As we learn more, we adapt and move forward.

Moderates also believe that politics is just an activity. And, while they understand it's an important activity, they reject efforts to construct identities based on politics. Rather, politics have the potential to create a society in which citizens are able to build meaningful lives. A good life flows from vibrant relationships. Moderates seek opportunities to build strong, diverse communities aside from politics.

They believe the solutions to our complex and chronic challenges are often found by synthesizing opposing ideas. That said, they are skeptical of government and wary of political guarantees. This contrasts with radical warriors, who rely on faith in politics and impossible promises to mobilize their bases.

Moderates are committed to truth and believe that partisanship, while important, is not ultimate. They embrace inconvenient facts and do not avoid people or ideas that challenge dogma. They can be difficult teammates, and tend to be hard on their peers and sympathetic to their foes.

Sadly, moderates are increasingly difficult to find.

On the left, support for progressive causes like abortion and single-payer healthcare has become a litmus test for Democratic candidates. Healthcare access is one of our most critical issues, but single-payer is more likely to be a disastrous quagmire than a solution that provides quality and affordable care for all. Democrats who identify themselves as moderate or fail to toe the progressive line risk party alienation at best and opposition at worst.

On the right, Trumpism and his brand of nationalist-populism have commandeered the Republican Party. Buffeted with epithets like “Establishment” and “RINO,” Republicans who formerly occupied the center have been pressured into marching lockstep with Donald Trump or committing political suicide a la Jeff Flake. Factions like the Tea Party and Freedom Caucus, characterized by an unwillingness to compromise, dominate the discourse and derail attempts to actually govern.

I find myself in political conversations a lot. And, more often than not, my partners end our conversations with some variation of, “If only we had more conservatives/progressives in Sacramento, Congress, etc.”

I disagree.

Despite their control of the House of Representatives, Senate and White House, conservative Republicans were unable to pass meaningful healthcare reform. And while the markets ascend to new heights, wages remain stagnant. Vast swaths of the nation are decimated by opioid addiction. And, we’re on the brink of tax reform that will benefit large corporations more than individual Americans.

In Sacramento, progressive political dominance has created a bifurcated state where the dream of home ownership is nearly impossible. Taxes and fees push both industry and jobs beyond the state’s borders. Students' achievement is near the bottom of the 50 states. Spiraling pension costs have created a fiscal crisis few are willing to confront.

Locally, we have conservative majorities on nearly every elected board and council. But we still have some of the highest unemployment and sexually transmitted infection rates in California. And, our schools consistently perform among the lowest in the state and produce “graduates” ill-prepared to participate in the modern economy.

Clearly, the one-side fixes all approach isn’t working.

Reasonable people will disagree about how to diagnose and address our social issues. Moderates approach the challenge of overcoming disagreement with prudence, humility and an openness to compromise.

To address our complex and chronic social issues, we have to accept that none of us has a panacea.

There are already enough ideologues. What we need are more moderates.

Contributing columnist Justin Salters writes weekly on politics, culture and civic engagement; the views expressed are his own. Reach him at Facebook.com/thatjustinsalters, Twitter @justinsalters or justin@justinsalters.com.

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