Moderation Isn’t Compromise

 

Responding to a Vox article by Ezra Klein, Mark Steyn explains how the common understanding of “moderate” voters is mistaken:

Because the first position is “left” and the second position is “right,” the pollsters split the difference and label such a person a “moderate.” But he isn’t actually a moderate, so much as bipartisanly extreme. In practice, most “moderates” boil down to that: They hold some leftie and some rightie positions. The most familiar type of “moderate” in American politics are the so-called “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” red governors of blue states. […] As Trump’s detractors see it, he’s just a reality-show buffoon with a portfolio of incoherent attitudes that display no coherent worldview. But very few people go around with a philosophically consistent attitude to life: Your approach to, say, health insurance is determined less by abstract principles than by whether you can afford it. Likewise, your attitude to the DREAMers may owe more to whether your local school district is collapsing under the weight of all this heartwarming diversity.

The policy preferences of most voters are rarely grounded in careful reflection of philosophical principle, which commonly results in voters holding ideologically contradictory positions. It is, furthermore, probably true that most “moderate” voters hold at least one or two positions that could easily be considered “extreme” or “severe” by their opponents.

It is often claimed that most voters want Republicans and Democrats to work together, but I think they want acquiescence, not compromise. What makes a person “independent” or “non-partisan” is that he or she doesn’t always demand acquiescence from the same side of the political aisle and fears a system in which any one party gains a monopoly on acquiescence. Thus, the “moderate” government most voters desire is one that reflects their own individual combinations of partisan interests — e.g., global warming initiatives + tax cuts, loose immigration standards + hawkish foreign policy, etc. — rather than promotion of only those few issues with bipartisan support.

In politics, moderates don’t represent a middle ground between ideologies. Instead, they are typical of human beings in spending more time living than thinking about living. They are not consistently ideological.

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  1. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Thank you for bringing Steyn’s piece to my attention.  And the Vox.com piece as well, because even a broken clock can be right twice a day.  (I suspect actually the broken clock has a better record on average.)

    I think a lot of people are starting to reach the conclusion that Steyn is hypothesizing about:

    Suppose there were a countervailing force to the fiscally conservative, socially liberal type? Fiscally liberal, socially (or at any rate culturally) conservative.

    I’m not so sure this is a good development.

    • #1
  2. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    There’s too much lazy talk on this site about the “mushy middle”, the assumption that there are three groups of people in the US: Alinksyite radicals, tea party conservatives, and a cloud of vague well meaning people who just don’t want conflict.

    This is, and has always been, baloney. I know plenty of people who don’t fit the standard left-right chart, and I bet you do too. (Exceptions: if you work as a Broadway choreographer, or as an oil wildcatter, you may well never meet anyone who’s a mixed case.) There are defense hawks who want big social spending on their families; Cato Rand, who was strongly pro gay marriage and also strongly anti-abortion; pro-pot capitalists; Catholic enthusiasts for open borders who are social conservatives; supporters of Israel who don’t care about social issues.

    If it’s any consolation to us, the angry Left has the same objections to their own leadership and their own allies: “Obamacare’s mushy compromise can’t last! The people cry out for single payer, but our gutless party won’t let them have it!”

    • #2
  3. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Quinn the Eskimo:I think a lot of people are starting to reach the conclusion that Steyn is hypothesizing about:

    Suppose there were a countervailing force to the fiscally conservative, socially liberal type? Fiscally liberal, socially (or at any rate culturally) conservative.

    I’m not so sure this is a good development.

    That was basically the profile of the Reagan Democrat, a fancy way of saying “Catholic”, IMHO. Pro-union, pro-Social Security, skeptical of Wall Street, churchgoing.

    • #3
  4. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    I wasn’t criticizing moderates. I was attempting to clarify the term.

    I agree that most voters have a mix of views which do not fall neatly on one side or the other. So-called moderates are voters who do not perceive the stakes to be as high as extremists like me or Steyn.

    The key points I hoped to make are (1) that most voters do not choose and prioritize policy preferences based on a finely tuned framework of first principles (2) and that the result of these scattershot preferences is not a love of bipartisan compromises.

    In other words, the middle isn’t mushy; it’s crunchy. Those voters are passionate about their choices. But their choices are less consistent and predictable than voting patterns found toward the extremes.

    If “moderates” are less unified than the most partisan voters, and many moderates share at least some of the extremists’ views, then perhaps appeals to the ends of the spectrum would be more successful electorally. The least partisan voters might be the hardest to hook.

    • #4
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    OK, Aaron, now I buy it. There are conservative attitudes that can be activated in otherwise moderate-liberal people; they’re imbedded like the raisins in raisin bread. Plenty of union people are apprehensive about immigration. Liberals like Ruben Navarette are now outspoken about their queasiness about abortion. Plenty of secular Jews do not regard Israel as bequeathed by God and have no plans to ever visit it, but they have rock-hard resentment of presidential rudeness.

    Therefore it’s not impossible for a real or so-called “extremist” to hunt for votes in the center, and that proves your premise.

    (It must be said that the ideological opposite is also true: there are plenty of conservatives who are vaguely capitalist but have strongly imbedded negative feelings about financial elites that makes them an ornery case at best for Wall Street Journal-type boosterism.)

    You acknowledge, I’m sure, that this evasion of the usual cliches on both sides has its political limits, because those stereotypes of the two major parties generally correspond to reality.

    • #5
  6. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Here’s an extended example: Latinos might respond on social issues they aren’t at all moderate about, although there hasn’t been much tangible evidence of it lately. But even if that conservative “implant” can be activated, it’s not likely to overcome the stark reality of a low income, relatively low skilled group that will absorb a great deal of help on the way up. You can only reach so far outside of your coalition; I concede it may be farther than we think.

    BTW, that says nothing bad about the Latinos. It was true of us, me, the Irish and Scots; we worked as laborers, worked our way into American society and became, in many cases, more conservative. but in the 1930s when we were starving? We were as socially conservative as nearly anyone, but we went on Home Relief, like everyone else. Like people would do today. We, not minority groups, created movements like the AFL-CIO, because we were on the bottom and wanted to change the rules. Why would they be any different? In the end people vote a complex mix of hot button issues that motivate them.

    • #6
  7. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Gary McVey: There are conservative attitudes that can be activated in otherwise moderate-liberal people; they’re imbedded like the raisins in raisin bread.

    I love this line, especially in this context.

    • #7
  8. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Gary McVey: You can only reach so far outside of your coalition; I concede it may be farther than we think.

    That’s true, although there are things one can do to bring people closer and move them further away.  It’s not static.  For example, calling Mexicans “rapists” makes things harder with Latinos.

    • #8
  9. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Gary, I have been wondering this week to what extent FDR’s transformative New Deal might be blamed on Irish immigrants.

    As you say, their supposed social conservatism didn’t translate into support for limited government. The Irish who later won their independence from England often identified themselves as socialists. But many Irish immigrants gained appreciation for decentralized political power as they worked their way up from poverty and acquired property to protect.

    Mexican immigrants seem to follow a similar voting pattern. They are not “natural conservatives” because they are accustomed to big government and they prioritize financial security over so-called “social” issues. But they do become Republican voters as they move up the economic ladder.

    In the meantime, Obamanomics wins.

    • #9
  10. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Quinn the Eskimo: I think a lot of people are starting to reach the conclusion that Steyn is hypothesizing about: Suppose there were a countervailing force to the fiscally conservative, socially liberal type? Fiscally liberal, socially (or at any rate culturally) conservative. I’m not so sure this is a good development.

    I’ll have to go read the Steyn article.

    But it was in reaction to the “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” self-description that I so detest that I put the following in my Twitter and Ricochet profiles, and maybe in a few other places as well:

    “…social conservative, fiscal libertarian, and anthropological liberal”

    • #10
  11. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    The Reticulator: I’ll have to go read the Steyn article. But it was in reaction to the “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” self-description that I so detest that I put the following in my Twitter and Ricochet profiles, and maybe in a few other places as well: “…social conservative, fiscal libertarian, and anthropological liberal”

    One of the weird things is that, in theory, “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” is basically a description of a libertarian.  The problem is that few if any of the people who apply it to themselves are actually libertarian.  In fact, they usually tend to be quite the opposite.

    Please tell me more about anthropological liberal.

    • #11
  12. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Quinn the Eskimo: Please tell me more about anthropological liberal.

    I knew I shouldn’t have brought it up, because each time I do I have to invent a new explanation.   But I’m a multicultural diversity kinda guy.  Sometimes it threatens my own culture and then I have to get defensive and protect my own, but that’s what other cultures do, too.

    Maybe I got this way 19 years ago when I started to see how European-Americans conquered the indigenous people of North America in much the same way that the left is conquering conservative America, and that there are a lot of cultural parallels.

    This topic started back in 1996 when I did a 3-week, 2000-mile bicycle ride to all 16 ballparks in the Midwest League (Class A minor league baseball).  In between ballparks I visited historical sites, especially those relating to the Sauk leader Black Hawk.  I started to see Black Hawk as a prior Newt Gingrich who was resisting the Clintonian onslaught and even thought of writing a book on it.  But then I realized I hate when history is written to fit a preconceived political agenda (I could but won’t name one Hillsdale College history professor who has done that) and decided to just learn about the history and cultures and take it where it leads me.  When I DO look at how it has affected me politically, I think it has made me more of a tea-party conservative.

    • #12
  13. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Aaron Miller: Aaron Miller Gary, I have been wondering this week to what extent FDR’s transformative New Deal might be blamed on Irish immigrants.

    One thing I have been surprised to learn in recent years is how some of the most anti-New-Deal people I knew started out by voting for Roosevelt in 1932.  This includes my parents and at least one grandfather.

    Anecdote: When I was a kid dad took us to the nearby small town library every Saturday.  Dad never tried to censor my reading, even though the librarian sometimes raised her eyebrows at my selections and asked if I really should be reading those books.  But there was one exception when I pulled a book about FDR off the shelves. Dad grabbed it out of my hands and said, “Let me see that.”  He then gave it back.  On the ride home I asked him what that was all about.  He said, “I wanted to make sure it was something good for you.”

    It was only a couple years ago that I learned he had voted for FDR in 1932.  I had assumed he and everyone else had been opposed from the beginning.

    Then I learned about the Farm Bureaus, and how at first they supported the New Deal, but took a big turn to the right when they learned that when the government came to help in an emergency it wouldn’t go away when the help was no longer needed.

    Wordlimitisup

    • #13
  14. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    The Reticulator: I knew I shouldn’t have brought it up, because each time I do I have to invent a new explanation. But I’m a multicultural diversity kinda guy. Sometimes it threatens my own culture and then I have to get defensive and protect my own, but that’s what other cultures do, too.

    I’m not sure how much overlap we have, but I think we need exposure to other cultures as an auto-immune matter.  Exposure to different ideas can sometimes teach us things, but sometimes it can also remind us how to defend our own ideas.

    • #14
  15. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    The Reticulator: One thing I have been surprised to learn in recent years is how some of the most anti-New-Deal people I knew started out by voting for Roosevelt in 1932. This includes my parents and at least one grandfather.

    I believe in the 1932 campaign, FDR promised to balance the budget.  That appealed to people who thought Hoover was too much of a Progressive.  I think that mistake was more understandable in the world of 1932 when the parties were less ideological and more subject to regional interests.

    • #15
  16. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Quinn the Eskimo: I’m not sure how much overlap we have, but I think we need exposure to other cultures as an auto-immune matter.  Exposure to different ideas can sometimes teach us things, but sometimes it can also remind us how to defend our own ideas.

    Only to a limited extent. Your immunity comparison is appropriate. A little exposure to conflict can strengthen the body. But too much sickens the body.

    Likewise, moderate exposure to contrary ideas and foreign cultures helps a person to grow. But if one is bombarded by too much, then it is difficult to process and form solid judgments. The result is multiculturalism: apathy, relativism, whimsy.

    That’s one reason why the internet is simultaneously a wealth of opportunities and a destructive force. It’s too much information to bring into order within one’s own mind. And much of that information must be accepted by blind trust, because the sources are not familiar.

    • #16
  17. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Aaron Miller: Only to a limited extent. Your immunity comparison is appropriate. A little exposure to conflict can strengthen the body. But too much sickens the body.

    We basically agree.

    • #17
  18. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Quinn the Eskimo:

    Aaron Miller: Only to a limited extent. Your immunity comparison is appropriate. A little exposure to conflict can strengthen the body. But too much sickens the body.

    We basically agree.

    I prefer large doses of learning about other cultures.  I have not found that there is such a thing as too much of it.

    • #18
  19. A-Squared Member
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Aaron Miller: In politics, moderates don’t represent a middle ground between ideologies. Instead, they are typical of human beings in spending more time living than thinking about living. They are not consistently ideological.

    Perhaps.

    Call me cynical, but on the really big question of the day (do we want government to do more or less), if you have not yet come to decision about which side you are on, I would not call you a moderate, I would say you are not being thoughtful.

    • #19
  20. A-Squared Member
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Gary McVey: There are conservative attitudes that can be activated in otherwise moderate-liberal people; they’re imbedded like the raisins in raisin bread.

    There is a quote that I seem to recall William F Buckley using to describe Katherine Graham when she opposed unions at the Washington Post (*), and I’m obviously paraphrasing, everyone is a conservative in their own profession.

    (*) The google box wasn’t able to help me find the quote I was looking for, so I’m prepared to be mocked by the ricochetti for mangling the quote or the situation.

    But, to your point, I recall a Great Course (that is, unfortunately, no longer available) where the Professor made the case that a community organizer is, in many ways, more conservative in the traditional sense of the word than the anarcho-capitalist software entrepreneur.

    • #20
  21. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    BTW, A-Squared, judging from your avatar, shouldn’t you get a promotion to A-Cubed?

    • #21
  22. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    “More/less government” is the sort of vague opinion that a person can hold without ever really applying it to specific programs or activities. I doubt even half of voters have a solid judgment which they consistently apply to policy decisions.

    Opinions are easily formed. It’s not difficult to find someone with strong opinions. But people whose policy preferences are unified by underlying philosophy are less common.

    • #22
  23. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    A-Squared:

    Gary McVey: There are conservative attitudes that can be activated in otherwise moderate-liberal people; they’re imbedded like the raisins in raisin bread.

    There is a quote that I seem to recall William F Buckley using to describe Katherine Graham when she opposed unions at the Washington Post (*), and I’m obviously paraphrasing, everyone is a conservative in their own profession.

    (*) The google box wasn’t able to help me find the quote I was looking for, so I’m prepared to be mocked by the ricochetti for mangling the quote or the situation.

    One of the recently deceased Robert Conquest’s three laws of politics was “everyone is conservative about what they know best“.

    • #23
  24. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    A-Squared:

    Aaron Miller: In politics, moderates don’t represent a middle ground between ideologies. Instead, they are typical of human beings in spending more time living than thinking about living. They are not consistently ideological.

    Perhaps.

    Call me cynical, but on the really big question of the day (do we want government to do more or less), if you have not yet come to decision about which side you are on, I would not call you a moderate, I would say you are not being thoughtful.

    I still don’t think that answers the question of what many people think about a particular issue or more precisely the mixture of ways they think about things.  You can probe folks who think government should do less, or more for that matter, and find they have beliefs that are incompatible with those general thoughts.

    • #24
  25. A-Squared Member
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Aaron Miller:“More/less government” is the sort of vague opinion that a person can hold without ever really applying it to specific programs or activities. I doubt even half of voters have a solid judgment which they consistently apply to policy decisions.

    Opinions are easily formed. It’s not difficult to find someone with strong opinions. But people whose policy preferences are unified by underlying philosophy are less common.

    Meh.  You either want the government to have more control over the economy and engage in more micro-managing of the day-to-day interactions ordinary people have or you want the government to do less.

    Sure everyone has small areas that other people think are exceptions, but I still think virtually everyone that has spent any meaningful amount of time thinking about the question has come down on one side or the other.

    In my experience, if you can’t decide, you probably aren’t paying attention.

    • #25
  26. A-Squared Member
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Gary McVey:BTW, A-Squared, judging from your avatar, shouldn’t you get a promotion to A-Cubed?

    Yes, my old bio made a reference to this and described why it was my avatar, but it got lost after I recently changed it.

    Still each side of the cube is still roughly a square.

    • #26
  27. Michael Sanregret Member
    Michael Sanregret
    @TheQuestion

    Gary McVey:

    Quinn the Eskimo:I think a lot of people are starting to reach the conclusion that Steyn is hypothesizing about:

    Suppose there were a countervailing force to the fiscally conservative, socially liberal type? Fiscally liberal, socially (or at any rate culturally) conservative.

    I’m not so sure this is a good development.

    That was basically the profile of the Reagan Democrat, a fancy way of saying “Catholic”, IMHO. Pro-union, pro-Social Security, skeptical of Wall Street, churchgoing.

    Yes, I think right.  That’s exactly what I used to be.

    • #27
  28. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    The Reticulator:

    Quinn the Eskimo:

    Aaron Miller: Only to a limited extent. Your immunity comparison is appropriate. A little exposure to conflict can strengthen the body. But too much sickens the body.

    We basically agree.

    I prefer large doses of learning about other cultures. I have not found that there is such a thing as too much of it.

    I think it is a matter of grounding.  Learning, adopting and adapting are all good things.  But I think we both know people who are like a leaf on the wind, going through phase after phase, being swallowed up by whatever the new thing is.  Based on your earlier comments, you certainly don’t strike me that way.  I think that was where the earlier remark was directed.

    • #28

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