James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Friday, March 24, 2006

Questions for "moderates"

The debate between “moderates” and liberals over electioneering and candidates has started again.

I put “moderates” in quotation marks because I really don't know what the word means now in a political context.

Roughly seven and a half months before the mid-term elections, the self-identified moderates – sometimes “centrists” -- seem to be saying that we must not take strong stands against Bush and his allies: Russ Feingold was wrong to seek a censure resolution, forget impeachment, don't make the religious right angry, be polite, don't use strong language, support “moderate” candidates, not those who are openly liberal.

Actually, from what I can make out, the "moderates" are saying we need to get Democrats back into some position of power in Congress, and to do that we mustn't take issue with any of the right's major positions nor pick a fight with their “base” or major office holders. We absolutely must not lay claim to the moral high ground.

Doesn't sound like the way to win a fight to you? To me either.

A sort of on-line debate between liberals and “moderates” took place recently in a newsletter run by a very good man who is among those laying claim to the moderate label. The “moderates” seemed to confirm my understanding of their position, which is that “in weakness lies strength,” though I'm sure they wouldn't categorize it in that way, and I can't figure out where the “strength” shows itself.

I have some questions, and I am dead serious about this.

I want those who have taken the supposedly moderate position to answer the questions publicly and clearly, because I am just one of a rapidly growing army of liberals who are appalled by what we understand them to be saying. We believe that if they prevail, the Democrats are doomed to yet another dismal electoral failure. And that means this country will take several more steps down the road to becoming a giant emirate.

(Growing army? Yes. Can't give you numbers, but if you survey the columns by syndicated columnists and letters to editors over the past three months, you'll see many saying things the writers would not have said last fall, openly and harshly spanking the gutless wonders at the top of the Democratic Party structure. And my contacts with literally dozens of people who once were loyal Democrats provide me with much anecdotal evidence of the decline of that semi-organization. The defectors and those who have one foot out the door are disgusted to the point of nausea with what they see as the cowardice and aimlessness of Democratic office holders and party officials.)

So, to the questions:

*Seriously, what does “moderate” mean, in terms of a person and a position? Thus far, it seems to many of us to mean a person who will not take a firm stand on any issue simply because it is the right thing to do. As a position, "moderate" does not seem to liberals to have any clear meaning other than “not liberal” and probably “not as far right as Bill Frist, although he's really a good guy.”

*What is the ethical or moral bottom line for a “moderate” politician or position as defined by those who name themselves moderates?

I will be honest: We can't see it. We do see a lot of Democrats holding their fingers to the wind (and often getting the direction wrong), checking the polls and finding out where Fox News stands on the question before deciding whether it's Tuesday or Thursday.

More specifically:

*Are there political or moral beliefs or positions on which you will not compromise or from which you will not back down? If so, what are they?

Pulling our troops out of Iraq? By when? Putting an end to torture by Americans or American surrogates? How quickly and by what means? How about measures to seriously reduce global warming and our dependence on oil? Domestic spying? Demanding immediate repeal of the misnamed Patriot Act? Requiring the president to abide by the Constitution and the rule of law? What about the $105 billion to be cut from Medicare over the next 10 years? Education funding?

Please: What will you take unshakable stands on, what is open to trading?

*Assuming you are willing to compromise on many issues, what are you prepared to trade way, and what will you demand in return? Very seriously, do you expect to get anything in return for what you give away? How will you extract concessions from the right?

Those are questions of great importance, because the record of the past decade and more clearly shows that the right wingers who control our government do not compromise. They take, they don't give.

They easily collect huge sums from corporate bigwigs and they buy lots of television advertising to persuade the public to their position and to try to crush any opposition. They will not, say, give up pursuing the legal right to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Preserve if you agree to destroy Social Security, even though Social Security is much more important. How do you propose to change that fact of life?

*Why do you assume the American public will not understand if the Democrats clearly and honestly define and explain the issues? Obviously, you do make that assumption, since you don't believe Democrats should take firm public positions on the major issues between the left and right. Isn't that conceding the field to the right, which does take firm positions?

*How will you deal with the phony issues of distraction? Will you debate them, which is what's happening now, or will you push them aside and insist on talking about the real issues of the day?

I could go on, but real answers to those questions will suffice for now. Should they be forthcoming, we can talk more.