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Why do most politicians continue to revel in muddled extremes?

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

So when is an apple just an apple? Don’t ask a politician. It’s too complicated a question. In this week’s Center Square, WHYY’s Chris Satullo says there’s something refreshing in finding an energetic, unambiguous middle ground far from the noisy extremes.


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Here’s a little fable about our national politics: A fox walks outside, sees a sheep and a goat arguing loudly.

“Whoa, guys, what’s the problem?” he asks.

“What’s the problem?” the sheep replies. “The problem is that this idiot says the sky is orange, when anybody with eyes can see it’s green!”

The goat splutters: “Green? Only a total moron could miss the blazing fact that the sky is orange.”

The fox thinks to himself, “Dunno, sky still looks pretty blue to me.” So he decides to steer clear of these two angry, delusional beasts.
Partisan liberals and conservatives love to claim that the sky is anything but blue.

Each side’s standard litany is internally inconsistent. Each side routinely dismisses inconvenient facts and common sense – leaving the average American with no side to root for.

I’m convinced one of the main reasons Barack Obama is president today is he was willing to say out loud: “Dunno, sky looks pretty blue to me.” In office, he continues to do so. He insists, whether the topic is Guantanamo, abortion or the environment, that doctrinaire positions are inadequate. He seeks solutions that respect nuance, that honor multiple values.

So, of course, he gets derided as a flip-flopper.

The political press has long been in thrall to an illogical narrative. It goes like this.

Moderation equals weakness, a deficit of principle. Compromise is for cowards. The middle is muddle, the land of milquetoasts, the house of waffles, flip-flop beach. To find vigor and rigor, passion and principle, you must look to the margins; that’s the home of the brave. To this narrative, every centrist position is based on expedience; it couldn’t possibly be based on insight or conviction.

This mental straitjacket is so familiar we barely notice we’re inside it. Partisan activists adore it, because it flatters them; it enhances their clout.
Fact is, it takes little courage to hunker down in the same bunker where you’ve always been. What really demands bravery is to think a new thought, knowing that you’ll take fire from all sides.

Such courage is needed. At this moment of crisis, we can’t indulge the tired, old Green Sky/Orange Sky squabbles. Not if we want to see blue skies again.

Obama at least tries to have a fresh thought. I don’t always agree with him, but I’ll take his nuances and pragmatism any day over the ideologues who now fire mortars at him from left and right.

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