LAS VEGAS — As the sun rises and dabs Caesars Palace with morning rouge, irony struts down the strip of casinos, shops and nightclubs.
What better place to contemplate moderation, the topic of a panel and my purpose for being here, than in the epicenter of human excess? The Black Mountain Institute (at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas) posed this question to a panel of three, which also included Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Fox News' Juan Williams: “Is moderation possible in American politics?”
The implied consensus would seem to be: probably not. Or at least not without massive reforms and/or a renaissance of civic duty. The hyper-partisanship we at least say we love to hate isn't likely to recede, given the rewards.
Although the discussion was aimed at politics, the question can't be considered without also contemplating the broader culture.
Once upon a time, moderation in all things was the maxim by which most people tried to live their lives. Today moderation is merely boring. Extreme is the virtue of the cool, as well as of a populace whose attention span compares favorably to a gnat's. Judging from the girths ambling along America's sidewalks, few appetites go untended.
Likewise in the political realm, passions roam unbridled. By saner standards, what would be readily identified as fanaticism is considered conviction, while resistance to compromise is allegiance to principle. Dispassion and facts give way to heat and opinion. In the policy arena, moral principle morphs into purity tests for politicians, and moderates run for the hills.
Such does not bode well for a nation in trouble. What we need are calm voices and pragmatic minds. Instead, we have fewer people self-identifying as moderate, down from 40 percent to 35 percent in the past 10 years.
Yes, there are substantive changes that might alleviate the partisan nature of our political arena. Campaign finance reform was one such effort, though in its place we got a more damaging mechanism for corruption, the now-benighted super PACs. Ornstein suggested another radical idea — making voter turnout mandatory, which would dilute the impact of special interests and advertising. He quickly pointed out that this will never happen in a country that hates all things mandatory. Thus, we might look deeper at the causes of our immoderate natures and see where voluntary, individual adjustments might be made.
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