Another Perspective

The Magnetic Magic of Moderation

It still works.

By 2.10.08

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The voters are now driving the candidates toward the Moderate Middle. It is one of the perennial magic magnetic movements of American politics. The candidates will henceforth spurn the extreme blocs and appeal to the vast majority of citizens who dwell in the great hump of the fabled "bell curve."

Listen to two Democratic Party professionals who worked for the Clinton White House, one now in the Obama camp and one in Hillary's. In separate conversations before Super Tuesday they confided privately to a physician-fundraiser, a member of the original "Friends of Bill" when they were students at Georgetown University, that if the GOP nominates John McCain, neither Obama nor Hillary-Bill can prevail. That is because they see McCain sweeping in the independents and the Moderate Middle whose wings take in both parties' less partisan voters.

It is a movement as old as human history, dating as far back as the time of Moses in the Old Testament, and possibly much further, into the evolutionary roots of our primate ancestors.

In Numbers, the fourth "Book of Moses," the boss's top assistant Joshua was disturbed that Eldad and Medad were doing a little free-lance preaching in the camp. So Joshua ran and complained: "Moses my Lord, forbid them!" But Moses told Joshua to cool it:

"Don't be so zealous for my sake," said Moses. They ain't hurtin' nobody. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Moses was a Moderate, obviously, and Joshua was a Rigid Rightist, a Taliban-type rule-or-ruin fellow, just like Rush Limbaugh. Joshua just could not stand dissent.

Nevertheless, Joshua became boss when Moses died, and his book is one of the bloodiest in the Bible. It details Joshua's campaign of genocide, in which he annihilated not only the men but also the women and children that occupied the Land of Canaan. Mention the book of Joshua to a modern liberal Jew and it still brings a wince of disapproval.

Vladimir Putin uttered a great truth about the human species after ten or a dozen terrorists in1974 seized Beslan school on opening day and blew it up, killing themselves and 334 civilians, including 186 children, and wounding hundreds more. Putin recoiled in horror, and blurted: "Who could want to live under a government run by such people?"

The Iraqi war turned around, reviving John McCain's candidacy, because the moderate Islamic-Sunni tribal leaders fighting American occupiers saw the Al Qaeda-in-Iraq terrorists send even mentally-ill women and 13-year-olds as suicide bombers to blow themselves up in their public marketplaces. They decided to join the Americans as allies against the extremists.

In 1994 Virginia's Republicans opted for the rigid rightist Ollie North instead of moderate Marshall Coleman, who ran as an independent and won endorsement of the state's senior Republican, Sen. John Warner. Result: North lost to Democratic Sen. Charles Robb, wounded by a sex scandal, and today Virginia has a Democratic governor and legislature; and Baby, it's cold outside!

Now Limbaugh says he'd rather see the Democrats in the White House, President Hillary or Obama, than moderate Republican McCain. And he has plenty of company among conservatives. But a Democrat in the White House, with a Democratic Congress, would mean a liberal Supreme Court majority for another generation, higher taxes, an extension of the "death tax," and throwing Iraqi moderates to the Islamist gorillas.

Speaking of animals, we should take a lesson from the way other primates behave toward their leaders. Since 1960, Jane Goodall and other scientists have observed chimpanzees, gorillas, and other groups and shattered our view of "the noble savage." When the chimpanzee troop retires a benevolent leader, it does so peacefully and allows him to occupy a place of honor, like former Presidents Eisenhower, Ford, Carter, and Bush I.

But when a rigid totalitarian dictator who rules with an iron hand, like Joshua, is overthrown, "it is never pretty," says Emory University primatologist Franz de Waal, author of Our Inner Ape. Think of Mussolini hanging by his heels and Tojo by his neck; Hitler with the burning Berlin falling around his ears; Ceausescu executed by a firing squad along with his wife Helena; the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic's genocides in Croatia and Kosovo and death in prison while on trial in The Hague.

So will the Republican right follow Rigid Rush into the cold outside, or swallow Moderate McCain, who promises conservative nominees like Justice Antonin Scalia for the Supreme Court and has offered a pledge to veto a tax increase? I believe so few conservatives will join Limbaugh and sit on their hands come Election Day that voters will make McCain the next president. Mitt Romney obviously agreed when he withdrew. Remember Truman and the Dixiecrats in 1948. But beware. Nobody could tell you last week who would prevail on Super Tuesday, but all pundits can now explain its results. Foresight is wobbly, but hindsight is perfect.

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About the Author

Eugene H. Methvin, a Washington free-lance writer, has watched American politics since 1948.