The Politics of “Moderation”
October 10, 2013
Here is the scenario: A politician with considerable power takes “a stand,” which is generally and accurately described as “intransigent” and as bound to fail. And, in fact, with little surprise, this stand does fail in that it does not accomplish its goal or goals. Moreover, this is not the first time this scenario had played out with, of course, similar results. So the question occurs: Why? That is, why does this politician act this way? Why does he choose to “lose?”
A popular theory is that he is caught in the clutches, trapped, by a part of his political party, a part that insists on fighting such battles as a matter of principle. If he doesn’t go along with these “crusaders,” bad consequences will follow – although no one can say what these bad consequences will be. After all, these crusaders are a distinct minority in the party and constitute no threat to this politician or his power. And this politician has a “safe seat,” so there is no danger of his not being re-elected. So the “trap” he is allegedly caught in seems less than real.
Moreover, this politician does not seem to fear “losing” to the other party, apparently because he is risking nothing. That is, he makes his demands intransigently with no hope for success and when these demands go unmet, he “backs down.” But as a result of backing down, he loses nothing – because those in the other party ask nothing of him or his party by way of concessions or “reparations.” And this makes it clear that the game he is playing requires the collusion of the other party, which also benefits from the outcome.
So, how to explain this rather strange behavior? The simplest way is by recognizing that this politician is actually winning in the sense that he will be rewarded for his intransigence. “How?” you ask. Well, his power will be enhanced within his own party, as the blame will fall on those who “trapped” him into behaving intransigently. He was, it will be said, relatively powerless and so should not be blamed. It is the others, the “crusaders” who should be blamed.
Moreover, by behaving as he did, he will solidify his power within the prevailing order by reinforcing a “lesson” always worth reinforcing, viz., that in America today, politicians are incapable of undertaking significant changes because “the system is broken,” “D.C. is broken.” It is the system that is broken and, therefore, it makes little sense to think that changing those who control this system would accomplish anything significant. And, as a result, incumbents will be re-elected in impressive numbers despite the facts that most Americans despise the Congress and our “two” major parties. And it now appears why the leadership of both parties play along with this scenario.
This is the game both parties are playing: Maintain the status quo against all odds. And this is labeled “a politics of moderation” despite the fact that it seems to resemble that high wire act recently performed over the Grand Canyon. Of course, we and not our politicians are the ones on the wire and without the benefit of a safety net.