There exists a natural inclination in the hearts of Americans to cure all perceived ills with the strongest antidote available. On Nov. 2, Americans will supplement their routine trip to the pharmacy with a trip to the polls. They will step to the counter, glance over each shoulder nervously to check for prying neighbors and instead of ordering the highest-milligram opiate, they’ll check the box for what they perceive to be the strongest antidote to the opposite party’s degradation of American standards.
Last Tuesday, voters of both parties made it very clear in the Senate primaries that they are sick of moderate ideologies. In Pennsylvania, Democrats perceived the illness to be incumbent Arlen Specter. The chosen antidote was the more liberal Joe Sestak who won by a whopping eight percent of the vote.
In Arkansas, many voters decided to forego the watered-down liberal values of over-the-counter Blanche Lincoln. Lincoln, an incumbent democratic candidate backed by the political machine, was forced into a runoff with Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, a more liberal Democrat with strong union backing.
In Kentucky, Republicans selected a lethal dose of Tea Party-backed Rand Paul, who affirmed his beliefs this week that businesses should have the right to refuse service to African-Americans, that the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration should get “out of our coal business” (one month after the largest mining accident in 40 years in Virginia), and that the President is “un-American” for having criticized BP for causing the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
Moderate Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana diagnosed the problem most accurately when he said, “Progress tends to take place in the middle… and I think that’s where most Americans are. The irony is that the political process is tending to produce results on the far right and the far left, which leads to further gridlock.”
Historically, this nation’s greatest and most enduring examples of progress have come from mixed, bipartisan assemblies. The New Deal, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 were not created by supermajorities. Though these pieces of legislation were born in highly contentious times, they were crafted by moderates through negotiation and arbitration, not by extremists through filibustering and reconciliation.
Today, the electorate is poisoning our democracy by attempting to cure one form of extremism by overdosing on another. Both sides forget the reason that Washington is causing such a headache in the first place is because partisanship has created an impenetrable impasse. Democrats passed health care legislation without a single Republican vote and Republicans attempted to filibuster banking reform. As the bloodbath ensues between Republicans and Democrats, moderates are caught in the middle, a dying breed facing extinction.
Americans are frustrated. I am frustrated. A $12 trillion deficit and a 9.9 percent unemployment rate are a headache. However, unless voters repress the temptation to vote for extremists, this headache is going to turn into a hemorrhage. Ideologies may move left or right, but it will be impossible to move forward unless we elect moderates in 2010.