Transcripted from the New America Foundation
It is not easy being a moderate. I have been shamelessly shilling for my book Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents since launching it last Monday. Correction: I have been constructively engaging in discourse about my latest historical monograph. Sitting in my office in Washington, DC at the Bipartisan Policy Center, I have been traveling across America, doing one of these satellite radio tours.
While ricocheting virtually from North to South, I discovered – or, to be more accurate – rediscovered – that in today’s partisan universe, even centrism and attempts at non-partisanship can be highly politicized.
- “Ah, you say you’re for centrism,” said a talk radio host in Detroit, “do you think a true centrist would be willing to be an appeaser and talk to dictators who hate America?” Of course, I had no idea which candidate he might be talking about……
- For balance – both geographical and political – a talk radio host from across the aisle in Georgia said: “McCain may talk about centrism but aren’t all Republican policies about greed and selfishness.” Hmm, not sure who he was favoring either…
But my two favorite comments were actually non-partisan comments in defense of partisanship, Dmitri and Bob, right in Washington, DC, introduced my WTOP interview by saying:
“If you want to say a word that sucks the air out of the room – say moderate – -it’s so boring, it just gets people yawning….”
And, more crudely, one radio host asked:
“if you hang out in the middle of the road, doncha just end up as road kill?”
This slam reminded of the Texas populist Jim Hightower’s 1997 polemic against his fellow Democrat Bill Clinton’s centrism entitled: There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadilloes.
This, of course, is the problem. We need to remember that there is a rich, vigorous tradition of muscular moderation in America, of dynamic leaders who sought the center out of strength not weakness, seeking to unite the country not just rile the partisans. Both Barack Obama and John McCain, in different ways, have said they want to lead from the center. Unless we figure out how to give them positive reinforcement for that constructive centrism, unless we push for moderation, we will see yet another round of red versus blue divisive politics.