Under the Sun
Not too hard, not too soft, just moderate
IF POP culture is any indication, Americans are partial to extremes.
Take television. There are dozens of shows that scream extreme, if not in title, then in content. A troll through the channels will pull in sports like aerial motorcycling and daring parachute jumps from thin air, ice-covered mountain peaks, along with the trashy punch, kick, spit and bite wrestling rumbles. TV makeovers seem to demand extreme treatment not only for homes, but for human bodies, a gruesome cutting, stretching and reconfiguration of flesh. Ugh.
Off the tube, video games, hardware, household cleaners, magazines and music are often billed as extreme. There's even a group -- no lie -- dedicated to extreme pumpkin-carving.
BUT in politics, extreme is a scare word. Or at least that's what candidates have made it, smearing opponents as extreme left, extreme right or just plain, all-purpose extremist.
Sensing that voters have grown sick of the polarized atmosphere that has spread over the country, many of them have enfolded themselves in the fog and mist of being a moderate.
Adopting the label didn't work for Joe Lieberman, the long-time senator shown the door by Connecticut Democrats in a primary last week. It seems his moderate mode was too extreme for voters when it came to his support for President Bush's war.
Lieberman's loss, however, hasn't discouraged other moderates or moderates-come-lately simply because the brand cues the right tones among Americans who like their politics lite.
MODERATE sounds safe and sensible, echoing health experts' advice to "practice moderation" in drinking, eating and personal habits.
Moderate and its double, centrist, speak of reason and restraint, of fair-mindedness and temperance, of dispassion and impartiality.
They can be as deceptive as other tags.
When a few members of Congress voted against giving Bush the authority to attack Iraq, favoring instead to allow a rational U.N. initiative to continue, they were branded extremists. Yet today, after more than three years of relentless, dirty war and the loss of at least 2,600 U.S. military lives, they can hardly be called that and their stance is rightfully seen as moderate, reasonable, sensible.
Those who claim to be the middle men and women on the political platform, but who supported the president, defend their new clothes as part of a broad wardrobe of values. Except that in many cases, the raiment have been tailored to fit an election year's stage.
BESIDES, there's something to be said for extremism, for being zealous about upholding the Constitution and human rights, stopping drunken driving, protecting natural resources and helping the less fortunate.
Anyway, extreme, conservative and moderate are in the eye of the beholder. Groups with interests -- special or common -- routinely rate office-holders, giving them points for agreeing with their agendas, demerits for not. From these rankings, quick composites of politicians are assembled for easy consumption.
But categories -- far left, liberal, right wing, green, blue, red or "al-Qaida types" -- can mask the qualities and beliefs of politicians.
They allow lazy voters to Cliff Notes their choices and simply match their political leanings like their preferences for coffee drinks with labels as froth.
CHOOSING a candidate isn't effortless. It requires paying attention and keeping a close eye on representatives in Congress and the Legislature. It requires deciding what's important and seeing if delegates speak for those issues. While no candidate can be a perfect match, the quality to look for is integrity, not a classification.
The best politicians are those who act independent of party and pressures, who aren't always pegging their decisions on the next election ballot, who can do what's best for the whole rather than a niggling base. These would be the true moderates, an endangered species in the invasively partisan environment of politics.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org