Mod­er­ately hopeful

Un­bend­ing par­ti­san­ship won’t help solve prob­lems fac­ing the na­tion


Ev­ery­thing in mod­er­a­tion. That has al­ways held ap­peal as a sound rule to live by, whether it’s giv­ing my­self per­mis­sion to oc­ca­sion­ally de­vour that be­yond-deca­dent dessert or have just one more glass of wine (as long as some­one else is driv­ing). Avoid dwelling in the ex­tremes and ev­ery­thing will be OK, right? I’ve found plenty of other rel­e­vant ap­pli­ca­tions, such as try­ing to quan­tify for my pre­teen son just how many hours of video games would be con­sid­ered ex­ces­sive. Could this mantra also ap­ply to our po­lit­i­cal dis­course? Clearly that’s not the state of our na­tion right now. And it’s been es­pe­cially true in so many re­cent dis­cus­sions over health­care pol­icy and other health-re­lated mat­ters. In these times, maybe it’s best to bor­row a line from Os­car Wilde: “Mod­er­a­tion is a fa­tal thing; noth­ing suc­ceeds like ex­cess.”

If that suc­cess is mea­sured by ad­vanced stages of leg­isla­tive grid­lock and par­ti­san po­lar­iza­tion, then our ex­cesses should be cheered. But count me out.

Any­body giv­ing even cur­sory at­ten­tion to the head­lines lately knows how deeply health­care has been mired in the ex­cesses of po­lit­i­cal rhetoric. The past cou­ple of weeks alone have shown how one sub­ject—in­sur­ance cov­er­age for con­tra­cep­tives—can hi­jack the na­tional agenda, de­volv­ing from a mostly civil de­bate over First Amend­ment free­doms into some­thing much more dark and di­vi­sive, as the Rush Lim­baugh flap proved.

Mod­er­a­tion in pol­i­tics? Many will say that’s just not the Amer­i­can way—that we like our en­coun­ters in the na­tional public square to be rau­cous and un­en­cum­bered. But search­ing for com­mon ground has also been our tra­di­tion. Let’s re­mem­ber the spir­ited com­mu­nity town­hall meet­ings across the coun­try dur­ing the sum­mer of 2009 in the runup to votes on the health­care re­form leg­is­la­tion. Those did in­deed of­fer a glimpse of the best and worst of our demo­cratic process, but they were just the open­ing act of what has been un­fold­ing ever since.

We can tune in to talk-ra­dio on any given day—lis­ten­ing to sta­tions cater­ing to the po­lit­i­cal left or right—and we’ll hear name-call­ing, rep­u­ta­tions be­ing as­sailed and com­plete dis­tor­tions of public pol­icy (think of the ab­surd dis­cus­sions of “death pan­els” al­legedly part of the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act). One key dif­fer­ence, how­ever, is most of that nas­ti­ness tar­gets elected of­fi­cials or other public fig­ures. What does it say about the state of our public dis­course when a stu­dent—no mat­ter how much of an ac­tivist she might be—is vil­i­fied and smeared just for giv­ing an opin­ion dur­ing a con­gres­sional hear­ing? It says we’re get­ting locked into ex­trem­ism.

As if we need more ev­i­dence of the prob­lem, late last month, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, a mod­er­ate Re­pub­li­can from Maine known for her abil­ity to cross the aisle in search of bi­par­ti­san­ship, an­nounced she would not be seek­ing a fourth term. She cast the de­ci­sive vote on the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee in 2009 to ad­vance the health­care re­form bill, even though she didn’t vote for it on the Se­nate floor.

In ex­plain­ing her decision to step down, Snowe cited what she called the “dys­func­tion and po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion” of the Se­nate. “In a po­lit­i­cally di­verse na­tion, only by find­ing … com­mon ground can we achieve re­sults for the com­mon good,” she wrote in a Washington Post com­men­tary. “That is not hap­pen­ing to­day and, frankly, I do not see it hap­pen­ing in the near fu­ture.” She re­it­er­ated the need “to find so­lu­tions that unite us rather than di­vide us.”

Un­for­tu­nately, those di­vi­sions run deep, but there’s al­ways hope that vot­ers across the coun­try this Novem­ber will choose can­di­dates who they be­lieve can be more than mod­er­ately suc­cess­ful at solv­ing our na­tion’s prob­lems. As­sis­tant Man­ag­ing


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