Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why Some of the Worst Candidates are Moderates

If you want the US government to intervene overseas, you are a conservative. If you want it to intervene in the economy, you are a liberal. If you want it to intervene everywhere, you are ... a moderate.

Being a political moderate often has little to do with the moral virtue of moderation. A moderate in the political sense is simply someone who combines the positions of other, more consistent, people. The results of this ideological alchemy can be explosive. George W. Bush, the compassionate conservative, is a paradigm case of a Moderate (political sense) Republican. Yet he is nearly the least moderate (moral sense) of all Presidents. Not since James Madison -- another moderate (political) -- decided to declare a naval war against the greatest naval power on Earth, mainly because they had conscripted a few Americans into their navy, has any President done anything more extreme than Bush has done. Mr. Madison's war resulted in the burning of Washington, and the President fleeing in humiliation into the countryside. (Bush is not, as so often said, the worst President ever. He is the second worst.)

Yet, in the political sense of the word, Bush is a very moderate President. John McCain, who has no political ideology whatsoever (not even something as mushy as compassionate conservatism) may be even more moderate (in the same sense). Given that he might be the next President, we should be grateful that he is at least opposed to torture, for the time being at any rate. But, given that he has no principled reason to take any particular position that he does take, we don't have much assurance that he will continue to take this one in the future.
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