Since the founding of this blog, a little less than four years ago now, the term liberal has been both major theme and point of contention. The fact that I chose to call the site The Rational Middle and be a liberal at the same time has drawn fire from conservatives and centrists (in today’s definition of that term) who have felt somehow tricked or trapped by the moniker. This I have grown accustomed to; I wanted to establish a site built more on original source reporting, and less on name-calling than other destinations in either the blogosphere or mainstream. I wanted to build a rational middle ground…thus the name.
Lately however, many in the liberal community have begun to attack the site and its themes, and the attack has a familiar pattern. For several years now, the conservative movement in general, and the Republican Party in particular, have waged “purity” wars. In Republican primary circles, to be called a RINO (Republican in name only) is to see the end of your public service career. On the surface, the notion of ideological purity carries a certain cache; it is, “those people” would say, the reason that conservatives have so successfully pushed the political standards of we the people so far to the right (whether the actual standards have followed suit is a matter of debate.) But what of reality? Why have so many items deemed important by voters been excised over the last thirty years? Why have so many bought the brand “center-right nation”, and installed it as believable?
The question is a critical one; if ideological purity as practiced by conservatives has indeed been the reason for the dramatic rightward movement in law, then it would be warranted for liberals to practice the same strategy in pursuit of their causes.
The Rational Middle argues that the notion of ideological purity has not been the driving factor in the (relative) success of the conservative movement. We need go no further back than the patron saint of conservatism, President Ronald Reagan, to see that purity had nothing to do with conservative success. We rarely speak of Mr. Reagan, instead, much of today’s conservative plead instead for a return to the values of Saint Ronnie the Gipper. Reagan has become a caricature in the revisionism of his politics practiced by today’s conservatives. Conservative success is nothing if not the real Mr. Reagan’s success, and Mr. Reagan possessed many values and took many positions that would preclude his nomination today to any office as a Republican.
Conservative’s success have nothing to do with ideological purity, quite the opposite. Notions of purity have paved the way for a liberal revival in the United States, one that has begun to pick up steam with the only Democrat since Roosevelt to win a majority of the popular vote twice, President Obama. Conservatives, and the liberals who have begun to emulate conservative notions of purity, have forgotten the consuming focus Republicans placed on funding and winning local elections. School boards in particular, long a lower tier of politics, were seen as bulwarks to the conservative cause. Ballot referenda as well have been used by conservatives to create and leverage wedge issues, with a special focus on referenda during mid-term cycles.
But these thoughts don’t seem to proliferate within the breeding grounds of single-issue politics, social networks. While Facebook and Google + offer the potential for a more educated populace (diversity of ideas, free information sharing, etc.), the willingness for individuals to seize on and share as gospel any information conveyed through colorful graphics without reference is dangerous. A single issue focus, in particular one without the time, ability, or willingness to self-edit, is the starting point for extremism. Credulity, it seems, has become the rule within social networks; the most cynical conspiracy theorists seem shockingly able to believe anything, providing the information comes from a source they feel is “pure”. Fed by this stream of information, liberals, centrists, and conservatives have begun to believe a remarkable set of “truths” that aren’t (or shouldn’t be) truthful. I have added a few below:
No good conservative can accept any form of abortion or artificial birth control…ever, and no good liberal can accept any restriction on any form of abortion or artificial birth control…ever
No good conservative can accept any regulation of firearms of any type…ever, and no good liberal can suggest that banning a type or types might not be the only route to a good outcome.
On Capital Markets
No good conservative can accept (or allow to be enforced) any tax or regulatory structure on the various capital markets…ever, and no good liberal can ever suggest that banning sales on the margin or derivatives is not in the interest of democracy.
On Health Care
No good conservative can accept or suggest (or allow to stand even after multiple majority votes and a Supreme Court ruling) any modifications to health care in America that aren’t built solely on tax credits and the pushing of obligations off of public balance sheets (even when said acceptance is for a bill written by conservatives, for conservatives, when Ronald Reagan was still alive and cogent)…ever, and no good liberal may ever suggest that; A) any element in the Affordable Care Act should be voided and B) it is nice we have a law now, but President Obama/Senator Reid/Speaker Pelosi (pick your favorite) cost us a better one because they weren’t strong/aggressive/committed/smart (pick your favorite.)
On Drones & National Security
No good conservative can ever suggest that armed drones attacking terrorists are bad (unless those drones are linked to the current President via a news story)…ever, and no good liberal can ever suggest that drones aren’t a terrible civil liberties disaster for America (unless they are trumpeting the Bin Laden raid, which could not have happened without drones, unlawful entry onto sovereign territory, or shoot-first-period rules of engagement.)
On Obama’s Appointments
No good conservative can ever accept an appointment by this President…ever, and no good liberal can ever accept an appointment by this President that isn’t the person identified by either the Nation or Rolling Stone as the most qualified/popular liberal who might sort-of fit the post.
The hope, for this blog, has always been to inspire and/or redirect people back to a conversational approach to political discourse, and one rooted in consistent positions and evidence. As a liberal, I try (I do fail) to evaluate policies, problems, and proposals under a very simple rubric:
Is an opportunity present, or does a problem exist, which is important to society at the local, regional, national, or international level?
If the answer to the first question is yes, then;
Can this opportunity or problem be effectively met, within the relevant time period, by an individual, by a group, or by the mechanics of the free market?
If the answer to the second question is no, then action by the democracy is not just required, but preferred. The only question left involves the strategy the democracy adopts for meeting the opportunity/problem challenge.
That is the notion of liberalism I adhere to, and the ideal behind The Rational Middle. It is left to you, the reader, to judge its success or failure.
The Rational Middle is listening…