Opinion » Ted Rall

Death of the Moderate

Extreme problems require extreme solutions


NEW YORK--"Given his druthers, Obama will pursue the most left-leaning course that he can get away with." So says Jennifer Rubin, a right-wing pundit at the neoconservative-leaning Washington Post. "Obama would have marched through his entire liberal agenda--if he had the votes."

This, of course, assumes that President Barack Obama ever had a liberal agenda. There's not much evidence of that. Moreover, Obama did have the votes in Congress to get almost everything that he wanted, but he chose not to even try.

In recent years, minority Republicans in the Senate have threatened filibusters on most major Democratic initiatives. When they have more votes, Democrats file a cloture motion to stop filibusters before they start. In practice, Democrats say that it now takes 60 votes to pass a bill in the Senate.

It isn't true. Not now. Not ever.

What Dems fail to understand is that they are depriving themselves of a political opportunity by embracing automated parliamentary procedure. If Republicans want to filibuster, let them drag out their District of Columbia white pages and start reading on C-Span. Footage of GOP senators stonewalling popular legislation--extensions of unemployment benefits, eliminating tax breaks for individuals who earn more than $1 million a year, or health-care benefits for 9/11 first responders--would make for awesome attack ads in 2012.

When the Bush administration enjoyed a razor-thin 50-vote majority in the Senate, it only needed a simple majority to pass major bills. Even though they should have, Democrats didn't filibuster.

There's another factor at work: self-delusion. Much liberal disappointment with Obama stems from the fact that, on several issues, he is doing exactly what he said he was going to do during the campaign. He told us that we were going to go deeper in Afghanistan. Liberals simply chose to pretend that he was lying. It's not Obama's fault if people are in denial. At the same time, Obama failed to realize that the world had changed dramatically between September and November 2008.

During the 2008 campaign, there was a plausible argument to be made that the American people were fundamentally moderate. But after the economic meltdown of September 2008, the electorate moved to the left. Six months into Obama's term, most Americans told pollsters they preferred socialism to capitalism. In early 2010 one in five Republicans said they have a positive view of socialism.

Meanwhile, the right became more radical, too. This is what happens during a crisis when the "mainstream" system is unresponsive. Moderation? There are no more moderates.

Moderates know their time has past. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently brought 1,000 people together to create a militant moderate group called No Labels meant "not to create a new party, but to forge a third way within the existing parties, one that permits debate on issues in an atmosphere of civility and mutual respect," say organizers.

For those who despair of the rise of political extremism, I ask: From multi-trillion-dollar deficits to endless war to mass die-offs of species and climate change, are the problems America faces so trivial that they can be resolved with more half-assed compromises?