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Extremism is not a synonym for authenticity

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|caleb walsh illustration
  • |caleb walsh illustration

As a long-time pragmatic idealist, I'm increasingly frustrated by the attacks on the center by right-wing and left-wing politicians and advocates alike. It's not the policy disagreements that are driving me nuts, but the continued insinuation that people somewhere in the middle, like me, are disingenuous.

From both sides they argue that "real Republicans" and "real Democrats" come from respectively the most conservative or liberal wings of their parties. I'm sick of moderates being called "RINOs" (Republicans in Name Only) for standing up for gay rights or told they need to start acting like actual Democrats when they oppose single-payer health care.

As a religious person, I find myself similarly annoyed by fundamentalists and atheists alike, who disagree about nearly everything, except that my understanding of the Bible is too moderate for me to be a "real Christian."

John T. Reuter
  • John T. Reuter

Why do all these people keep insisting that extremism is a synonym for authenticity?

After all, there are plenty of disingenuous phonies in the ranks of radicals — including those taking advantage of the ease of extreme rhetoric to avoid the hard work of actually solving problems. That said, don't get me wrong. I'm equally tired of milquetoast moderates, who use phrases like "realities of governing" to indefinitely delay action.

But when accompanied by steady, consistent action, moderation in the advancement of justice is no vice.

Allow me to belabor my point. It's not that I believe in more radical tactics but lack the courage or conviction to act. I really believe in thoughtful, incremental progress. In part, this is because the plans of radicals tend to fail spectacularly far more often than they create spectacular success.

Massive tax cuts fail to grow the economy over the long term, but so too do large stimulus bills. Neither slashing government to the bone, nor global military buildups, nor mega-infrastructure projects have done as much to advance justice as their implementers hoped and promised.

That said, proper moderation should not be confused with timidness or a lack of moral clarity. We must recognize, for example, that the climate is changing and that racial and economic inequality is prevalent. And these recognitions, of course, require action.

But single, one-time, massive legislation is unlikely to fully secure the future we desire; rather we need consistent actions layered one upon another to build a more just world. We must be the tortoise to their hares, slowly and steadily chipping away at injustice — rarely sprinting, but never stopping.

You do small things over and over again until the next small thing is that step that once looked big at the beginning. And through that process that once radical idea has been tested, adjusted and become far more likely to succeed.

This is moderation not as a timid political strategy, but a transformative governing philosophy. It's the caterpillar in the cocoon, making progress that can seem painfully slow until suddenly, with a flutter, a butterfly emerges.

This bold moderation may seem at times boring in its implementation. However, I firmly believe it is the best approach if we seek to signal our authentic commitment to a more just world not merely through rhetorical flourishes, but by achieving real and lasting results.♦

John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, has been active in protecting the environment, expanding LGBT rights and Idaho's GOP politics.

The original print version of this article was headlined "The Case for Bold Moderation"

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