The Raging Moderate Blog
After several years of fits and starts, I finally resolved at the start of 2018 to launch this blog. It comes about after a long, slow burn I’ve been feeling as we see the ever louder extremes in our country hijack the national political debate, knowing that these louder extremes are outnumbered by those of us around the middle who represent the quieter majority of our country. And that slow burn grew into a full-blown fire for me in 2017.
Being a moderate does not mean having no core beliefs, and all moderates have their own core starting points for how they look at the world. My own starting point is as a moderate libertarian. While I believe that government has an essential role to play in fulfilling our nation’s fundamental principles of equal opportunity and liberty and justice for all, that role should be exercised in as limited a manner as possible. As much as possible, government should set out broad policy goals, provide the resources where necessary, and let market forces determine how best to achieve those broader goals. “Nudges,” incentives, and random audits that come with certain consequences for violations are generally far more efficient and effective for ensuring accountability and desired outcomes than prescriptive regulation.
It goes without saying that not everyone is going to come at things from my same starting point for how to fulfill our nation’s fundamental principles. Wherever we start from, that is where moderates–raging or otherwise–really earn their stripes, because almost anything that actually gets done in politics usually gets done in the proverbial middle.
As far as how we get to that middle ground, I think there a few common values all self-respecting moderates can agree upon:
- Facts matter. We need to operate from a shared set of facts, and then we can argue over our interpretation of those facts and our opinions about the world.
- Avoiding echo chambers matters. If we constantly hang out with, read, and listen only to people who share our same outlook and views, it becomes very difficult to see the other side of things and find the common ground that often exists. We are all tribal at our core, and it requires affirmative effort to get out of our comfort zones to understand where other people are coming from, find common ground, and move our ideas forward.
- Checks and Balances matter. All power requires accountability (as the saying goes, absolute power absolutely corrupts), and our system of checks and balances is essential for accountability in government. It also generally serves as a positive force for moderation. And it leads to better ideas and better policies when we (respectfully) argue our positions with people who may see things differently, as a great column by Adam Grant in the New York Times recently highlighted.
- Hypocrisy matters. We all need to hold ourselves and the policies we advocate for to the same standards that we would hold others when the shoe is on the other foot. So, for example, if you are someone who believes strongly in limited regulation as I do, that principle should apply not just to businesses, but to government programs for poor people as well.
- Compromise matters. The most obvious and often the most difficult. There are times when we need to stand on principle, but that should be limited to when truly fundamental principles are involved. Too often in today’s environment, hardcore partisans view any type of compromise with the other side as a sellout, and the quieter majority really needs to push back on that for government to do its job well.
Those are the principal values that in my book define being a moderate, wherever our core starting point may be. And you will see in this blog that I’ll often be looking to music as an inspiration for the way forward. Dobie Gray’s classic, Drift Away, sums up the power of music for me quite well. While I can’t sing, can’t play an instrument, can’t dance, and really have no musical talent whatsoever, I love listening to music and draw much of my inspiration from it.
If you want to know more about where I get most of that musical inspiration, check out WXRT in Chicago, the greatest radio station in the land. My day job is at The Chicago Bar Foundation, and you can learn more about me and my background on the CBF site.
The growing polarization and dysfunction in our political systems has many causes, including more partisanship and less objectivity in today’s increasingly fragmented media landscape; pervasive gerrymandering; and an overall weakening of civic education and engagement in our country. Those are all longer-term trends that need to be addressed but won’t go away quickly, making it all the more important for those of us in the middle to mobilize and make ourselves heard on the big issues of the day. For whatever it is worth, this blog will be my contribution to that effort.