As we launch ourselves headlong into midterm elections here in the USA, the editorial pages are themselves launching their biennial complaint, lamenting the dearth of the so-called "moderate" candidates. There are few words in news-speak that have less meaning than "moderate", and here is why.
Ask yourself what you think when you have the news on and are paying perhaps 53% attention. A few dusty synapses click, and your subconscious decides they are talking about people -- voters, candidates, whatever -- who have middle views on the issues of the day, and therefore can achieve consensus in an otherwise over-polarized Government. You think that, because that is the narrative the media want you to have -- that there are actually such people in politics.
The natural inference is that we should seek those candidates, and that the voters should vote for them. But what voters? What issues? What candidates? When you elevate your attention level to close to actual concentration, you realize that the moderate hypothesis is a myth; that we cannot elect them because they don't actually exist.
Here's why. While our subconscious and the unthinking media try to make you think that there are people with middle views, those who are not broadly conservative or broadly liberal have mixed views, and that just is not the same thing. The outcome is that no so-called "moderate" can achieve anything like enough of a voting base to win anything above dog-catcher.
Let's look, to illustrate, at ten fairly significant issues of the day. By "issues", I'm talking about the underlying attitude of a voter, that would tend to show up in a binary question if the person were backed up against a wall and forced to answer, and if the question were to be reduced to a black-or-white one.
1) We are the world's policeman, or we should keep our nose out of other nations' internals.
2) If you increase tax rates you will raise more revenue, or you will suppress the activity and lose revenue.
3) Unions are vital to worker rights, or they have achieved their need through legislation and thus outlived their usefulness
4) The Federal Government should take over as much of the economy as possible, or take as little as possible
5) The Constitution's "powers not delegated" clause moves every governmental function to the states other than the specific ones laid out for Washington, or it is flexible and the states have very little independence.
6) Affirmative action is necessary to achieve diversity, or it is simply reverse racism in disguise.
7) Abortion is murder, or a fetus is the biological property of its mother to be handled only as she sees fit.
8) There is a maximum individual tax rate that any American should ever have to pay regardless of income, or there is no limit and if the law says someone could have to pay 90% of their income in taxes, that's OK.
9) The Federal Government has a role in education, or it has none and education is the purview of the state and local governments.
10) There is a Judeo-Christian moral compass upon which the US relies, or we must recognize the differing morality of other religions (or atheism) in this country even if they are counter to US or local law.
Now, you may think there are actually options between each of the "or" clauses in these ten, and you'd be right. But the point is that, if forced to, everyone would be able to identify a conviction or, at least, a sympathy, with one choice or the other in these or any other dozen topics you might bring up.
I did not put the choices in any order, but you will see that the answers any one person would choose would tend to assort -- the low-tax person would more likely be of the "abortion is murder" side, and the "affirmative action is racism" side, etc. Let's say we look at the answers and call one of them "C" for typical of a conservative, and one "L" for being typical of a liberal. In a population of 1,000, undoubtedly at least 800 will have at least 70% of their forced answers all being C or L, and fewer than 200 will be split 50-50 or 60-40 between the two.
That 20% of the population, though, is where the media make their mistake. Let's say, for argument's sake, that someone in questions #1-5 comes down on the "C" side, and on questions #6-10 on the "L" side. What do we call that person? You guessed it -- a "moderate". Now the guy living next door comes down "L" on #1-5 and "C" on #6-10. What do we call that guy? Well, we have to call him a moderate, too.
So we have two people the media would call "moderate", who have no more in common than two people, one who is all "C" and the other one all "L". Please explain to me how a single "moderate" candidate can expect to get the votes of both of those people.
They key in all this is that the voting populace actually assorts its views into two poles, because the upbringing a typical American has will push him or her toward a value system that tends to be conservative or liberal. Those elements which mellow that commitment to one side or the other are so individual that by the time a person migrates some of their views toward the opposite pole, their voting tendency will be their own, and the odds of mapping to some "moderate" candidate quite slim.
The media can decry the lack of moderate voices all they want, but there's a good reason that their outcry doesn't produce candidates with the possibility of winning anything. There is no "third pole" around which sufficient people gather to produce a candidacy.
Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton