There’s so much brazen talk these days concerning the demise of our nation and communities that one is tempted to plug one’s ears, kick back and take a nap. The problem, of course, is that so much of the blather is radicalized nonsense that is anything but harmless. If starkly simple ideology rules the day, then our individual and collective futures are indeed in jeopardy.
The recent surge of one-dimensional rhetoric comes from what New York Times columnist David Brooks calls “Wal-Mart hippies.” Brooks, a conservative of the old school (you remember them, don’t you — fiscally conservative, while recognizing a limited role for government in maintaining critical social functions?) draws a comparison between the “I don’t wanna pay” crowd and the equally loud, antigovernment radical left wing of the ’60s.
The comparison is interesting and on the mark. Both groups rail incessantly against the tyranny of government. In the ’60s, many radical students who advocated the demise of government attended public universities with the aid of government student loans, and were carted from anti-war and anti-government riot sites in government-funded ambulances, tended by government-funded medical personnel. Many, we suppose, went on to government jobs and are now retired and Wal-Mart hippies.
The Wal-Mart hippies howl about the burden of taxation and yet many cash their government pension checks; many demand government support of their retirement plans, they expect younger workers to make sure Social Security remains viable; many if not most make ample use of Medicare or veterans’ medical services. They don’t want to pay taxes but, at the same time, they are irate if their road is not maintained; they expect the ambulance to show up when they have their heart attack; they expect firefighters to arrive when the house is ablaze; they want potable water to come from their taps; they demand law enforcement guard their interests when necessary.
Ironically, they are often the same people who wear American flag shirts or buttons, whose cars are festooned with all manner of “patriotic” bumper stickers, who raise their voices in defense of our nation, who loudly sing the national anthem and declare themselves patriots, but who do not want to contribute any additional financial support to those aspects of society that keep a culture growing and healthy.
On the other side of the political spectrum, the far left remains focused on a socialist vision. Yes, the word “socialist” has been drained of meaning by the Wal-Mart hippies, but there are those who would put big government at the forefront of each and every citizen’s life. These individuals want more government and considerably more expense on the part of citizens — a scenario that eventually robs people of incentive and industry, that strips entrepreneurial energy from business culture and reduces what should be bright social colors and distinct social strata based on achievement to an even, gray tone and a level but lifeless playing field.
Where have the moderates gone? On the right and to the left of the middle ground?
Moderation is not a bad thing, despite what the ad-revenue-sucking cable and radio show hosts say. Moderation is, in fact, the essence of productive political action. Moderation involves reasoned compromise, not fevered, ideological head-butting. It involves respect, not name-calling. It involves study of complex issues and an understanding that, when the topic turns to government finances, taxes and the economy, the answers to problems are not arbitrary, knee-jerk reactions, but rather those that come from analyses of how revenues are spent, and hard-eyed appraisals of how revenues can be shifted to serve the greater good. And a realistic take on new taxes, when they are needed.
The election cycle is set to begin in earnest. Local Democrats and Republicans caucus on March 16. What kind of tone will dominate these proceedings, and those to follow? Are the extremes going to triumph, or will sensible moderation and a willingness to avoid mindless radical, partisan rhetoric prevail?
We need some moderation, stat!