Saturday, February 2, 2013

Being Moderate in An Extremist World

For those of you who read my blog, you know how it goes with me and "issues".  I get pretty passionate about the things that I believe in.  But that's pretty common in today's political climate.  If you aren't passionate about your views, if you don't speak up about what you believe in, you're likely to be trampled under the feet of louder voices.

Most of these louder voices, however, tend to come from ends of the political spectrum, rather than from the more reasonable points throughout the center.  You hardly ever see people posting picture quotes about how politicians should focus on working together rather than focusing on winning.  It is the very reason why Jon Huntsman didn't win the Republican nomination last year.  Voices of reason are easily drowned out by irrational extremism.

You may or may not know this, but I am a huge Aaron Sorkin fan.  He writes intelligent, thought-provoking television, including two of my favorites shows, The West Wing and The Newsroom.  When I think of my own political views in comparison to the extremist views that are bouncing around out there, I think of a quote from The West Wing.  In one particular episode, President Bartlet is interviewing a judge for possible appointment to the Supreme Court.  This judge, who is a moderate, makes a statement about his moderate views.

He says, "There are moderates who are called that because they're not activists, and there are moderates who are called that because sometimes they wind up on the left and sometimes on the right."

I think that calling myself a moderate can be quite a bit misleading, because that quote is completely accurate.  When politicians think of moderates, they think of how they can sway these weak-minded, apathetic individuals to their way of thinking just long enough for them to cast their ballot.  But what about those moderates who actually do care?  What about those of us who actually have an opinion on specific issues, but don't fit the typical Republican or Democrat molds, sometimes ending up on the left and sometimes ending up on the right?  It can be difficult to get other politically-minded people to take you seriously.  Why?  Because extreme conservatives will alienate you as soon as you come down on the side of a liberal idea, and the extreme liberals will do the same to you when the opposite is true.  This has happened to me many times, even amongst dear friends.  Very few people want to hear what you have to say unless you agree with them all the time.

And if people only want to hear what you have to say if/when you agree with them, what is the point of a political discussion anyway?  If Facebook serves as any example of our society (which, let's face it, it kind of does), then is the point of a political discussion simply to try to shout your view the loudest and shun all of those who disagree with you?  If so, we are in a very sad state.

This country was built on conservative values and liberal ideas.

Extreme Republicans:  Do you think that we'd even have this wonderful, free country of ours if our ancestors sat around, all over Europe, thinking, "Welp, this is the way it's always been.  These are our values and nothing should ever change.  We shouldn't even try."

Extreme Democrats:  Do you think that we'd have such a solid foundation in this country if we casually discarded our most fundamental values simply to accommodate the whims of the masses?

Extreme Everybodies:  Do you think that if you shout over the other guy's ideas that it is going to make you look intelligent?  Do you think that if you shout loud enough and long enough that anyone will just stop and say, "Gee whiz, why didn't I see that this side had a super rational take on the situation?  I should change my point of view immediately!"

Um, no.  Actually, mostly never.  Almost no one is going to be swayed by yelling or extremist behavior.

Extremism doesn't fuel good political commentary; it fuels fire from embers that already exist.  If you don't already hate/worship the President, you aren't going to be swayed by someone who is shouting about how you should.  You could, however, be swayed by someone who presents a thoughtful, intelligent argument with facts and legitimate examples.

Now, I do want to say that you can possess mostly conservative/Republican or liberal/Democratic views on political subjects without being an extremist.  No matter where your ideals lie on the spectrum, you can be reasonable, thoughtful and refrain from spreading hate.  It's entirely possible (and highly encouraged).  However, if you repeatedly share misinformation about "the other side", spread hateful remarks about the President (past or present) or say anything else that serves no real political purpose other than to fuel unnecessary fires and "win the partisan battle", I'd advise you to reconsider your actions.

As a Christian, I am encouraged to stand up for what I believe in.  This is what I believe in, and it is the strongest conviction that I have, next to my testimony of the Gospel.  If we continue to tear each other down, if we continue to shout simply for the sake of drowning out others, if we continue to spread animosity through our words, we will no longer have the Spirit of the Lord in our lives.  We will not have His direction.  We will not, as a country, be able to accomplish anything of worth until we learn to listen to each other and work together.  No dictator or oppressor ever came about because everyone was working in a spirit of love and cooperation.  So even if you dislike our Democratic President or our Republican Congress, there are still ways to have your voice heard while still supporting our leaders.

The goal of political activism is not to win for your party.  It is to win for the people.

1 comment:

Araignée said...

Spoken as objectively as possible, I would argue that Hunstman is more conservative of a person than Romney, though Romney as the nominee had to act more conservative than he was. In that case I'd say it was less of an extremist reaction. Not that I'd say one is better than the other, but Huntsman had a lot of points that were less appealing to the centrists of his party.

Anyway, I agree with the gist of your post. Extremists often overlook the good and values of the other side (http://reason.com/archives/2012/08/20/the-wrong-side-absolutely-must-not-win), and forget the necessity of building toward a common good. One's political compass (http://www.politicalcompass.org) shouldn't be defined by left/right, but instead by their internal values and desire for the betterment of society.

It's sad that so many Mormons fail to follow the example of their leaders, accepting and praying for all their civic leaders (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/statement-on-election-result).