Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Rocking the boat - How America maintains a moderate government

Despite the wide disparity of political beliefs and left vs. right and liberal vs. conservative divisions in America we still manage to maintain an overall moderate form of government. Sure, sometimes it is a little too liberal for some folks and sometimes it is a little too conservative for other folks, but on average the policies of the U.S. government are moderate and fairly centrist. How do we do it?
Overall, our government policies tend to be reasonably moderate and centrist even if in the short-term they may be quite volatile and leap from very liberal to very conservative and back again in a rather violent manner.
Basically we have two sides, one side rather liberal and one side rather conservative. Although we sometimes have bipartisan agreement to stay approximately in the center on policy, much of the time one of the sides manages to secure "power" and policy suddenly lurches in that side's direction. Not to worry, because usually it doesn't take too long, maybe a single election cycle or in some cases a decade or two or three and then the American people grow weary of the limitations of that one-sided power and the balance among voters suddenly flips over and people vote to give the other side the opportunity to balance out or otherwise compensate for the excesses of the previous regime.
Alas, the side in charge rarely stops when they hit the center line of moderate policies and just keep going towards the other extreme and once again voters grow weary of the extremism and the balance of voters flips again.
Rinse and repeat. The result is that over time we average out to that magical moderate centrist center line, not by precise design but simply as a result of lurching to and fro, like a drunken driver careening from guardrail to guardrail. Hey, it may not be a pretty sight, but it does manage to give the desirable average end result of a roughly moderate centrism.
I do think that in a very real sense we can say that we achieve a moderate centrism by balancing the liberal and conservative agendas. Not a static, fixed balance, but a continuously variable dynamic balancing.
And I do think the U.S. government is healthier and more functional with this constant rebalancing. It gives us the opportunities to experiment with policy elements that are a bit further from dead center than if we merely had a single mega-centrist party or even two parties that were more finely hewed to near-center agendas.
Can we do better and simply stay in the rough vicinity of the moderate center line without the disruptive detours? Maybe, but I personally am not convinced. I think the problem with that hope is that although there may be a silent majority that is moderate, that is the problem: they are silent and passive and not as active and passionate in politics as the left and right extremists and political opportunists are.
Now here we are at the threshold of another election cycle. Are the American people in a mood to sit back and tolerate only a little rocking of the boat, or are they ready to do some heavy leaning and shifting of weight, either further to the liberal left, or are they ready to give up on liberalism for now and put their weight into leaning towards the right? My personal sense is that we will see a lot of little side-to-side rocking but overall maintain roughly the same direction. Although there may be a lot of disappointment with the current lean to the left, they don't really want to lean a lot further in that same direction just yet, nor do they want to radically switch directions. They simply want to give the current direction a little more time and then decide what to do based on what results get achieved. Individuals may disagree strongly with staying the course, but averaging the left-leaning with the right-leaning in terms of vote counts probably just balances out. Whether this is really the case remains to be sorted out next November.
In any case, the angst and the anxiety and all the boat-rocking are simply core components of the American political experience. It really is who we are, not so much as individuals, but collectively, and that is all that really matters. Our incredible diversity and how we manage to balance it is a key aspect of our core strength and will allow us to survive just about anything.


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