It takes a certain audacity to call oneself a political moderate. I don’t mean the type of person who calls himself or herself a moderate in order to either straddle the political fence and appear amenable to everyone or shroud their true ignorance of politics. The people I’m writing about are politically active, pragmatic individuals whose beliefs cannot be easily clustered to the left or to the right. While the Ann Coulters and Bill Mahers of the world predictably face intense disdain from the opposite side of their political spectrums, those of us in the middle expect to be in the center of a delicious sandwich of political contention.
Of course, being a moderate isn’t all pain and misery. In the best of times, they are labeled deal-breakers and legislative champions. But in the worst of times, they are the bane of everyone’s existence.
The current health care debate is unquestionably a pretty bad time.
Despite occurring during the administration of a “post-partisan” president, the fight for a new health care system has been overrun by ideologues and zealots. Liberals and conservatives alike has embraced political extremes and claimed it is the other side that refuses to bargain.
And what of those few moderate voices? Let’s just say neither party is very appreciative of members in search of a sensible center.
Conservative activists and politicians have made this explicitly clear throughout the August recess. We all have seen the surreal, yet all-too-familiar footage from town halls across the nation. Protestors have mobbed moderates in Congress shouting sensationalistic chants and carrying picket signs.
Still, the extremism seems to have rubbed off on legislators. Even in the Gang of Six, the bipartisan group of senators aiming to break the deadlock with an agreeable bill, Republican members have taken extra strides to avoid appearing too moderate. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., a member of the Gang of Six, recently attacked the Democrats for planning to “ration out health care,” while also hinting at the possibility of government death panels, which will never exist in reality.
But wait—don’t gloat yet, liberals. You haven’t exactly greeted the centrists in your party with olive branches either. This week, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif.—chairman of a key health subcommittee—referred to moderate blue dog democrats as “brain dead” for wanting to temper the public option.
And when the White House itself considered putting the scale of the public option on the bargaining table, liberal democrats demanded that any bill possess a public option of the same strength as the House bill. Democratic senators in the Gang of Six received similar wrath when they attempted to make identical concessions.
Still, certain moderates remain committed to achieving a pragmatic collaboration on health care. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, continues to show interests in dealing with colleagues of a different party. She remains open to a public option. Finacial Committee Chair and moderate Democrat Sen. Max Baucus of Montana has shown similar resolve to work toward a compromise.
It we’re lucky, their cooperation will move this country closer to an effective health care system. As Sen. Snowe eloquently stated, “if [health care] comes down to all or nothing in this polarizing standoff, that does nothing to serve this country at a time of great consequence.”
Oh, the audacity.