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.


keatssycamore said...

we should be grateful that he is at least opposed to torture, for the time being at any rate.

And, as if on cue from Mr. Hunt, McCain votes against bill banning waterboarding.

Lester Hunt said...

Wow. I don't generally make predictions involving politics any more, because I'm no good at it. In my lifetime, I've been known to predict that Americans would never elect, as President, the governor of a second-rate southern state. And I said this about Georgia and Arkansas, both. I also once predicted that Hillary Clinton could never be elected to any office because her personality is just too abrasive. In the past, most of my predictions have been on the level of Mencken's "a Chinaman could beat Roosevelt." ... So I have to pat myself on the back, just this once. It's a rare experience for me, God knows.

Charlton said...

"In my lifetime, I've been known to predict that Americans would never elect, as President, the governor of a second-rate southern state."

Sir, do you speak out of ignorance, prejudice, or both? Pray tell, which Southern states would you classify as "first rate", and how would they compare to the superior states of the North?

Lester Hunt said...

Out of ignorance, mainly. Seriously, now I think of it, of these two only Arkansas clearly qualifies as nth rate, where n is greater than 1. Remember what Mencken said: "I didn't make Arkansas the butt of ridicule, God did."

Anonymous said...

Mr. Madison's war resulted in the burning of Washington, and the President fleeing in humiliation into the countryside.

This has even been set to music!

Oh, come back, proud Canadians
To before you had TV,
No hockey night in Canada,
There was no CBC (Oh, my God!).
In 1812, Madison was mad,
He was the president, you know
He thought he’d tell the British where they ought to go
He thought he’d invade Canada,
He thought that he was tough
Instead we went to Washington....
And burned down all his stuff!

And the White House burned, burned, burned,
And we’re the one’s that did it!
It burned, burned, burned,
While the president ran and cried.
It burned, burned, burned,
And things were very historical.
And the Americans ran and cried like a bunch of little babies
Waa waa waah!
In the War of 1812!

Lester Hunt said...

Good one! I can't quite get those words to scan, though. I wonder what the tune is like.

Anonymous said...

The song is "The War of 1812" by the Arrogant Worms. As performed, it scans pretty well.

Anonymous said...

Here's a link:


Lester Hunt said...

I found a link to a playable MP3 of it here. It's a scream. Part of it, I notice, is to the tune of "The Battle of New Orleans," which is about the same war, of course.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, apparently it's not the Arrogant Worms but a more obscure group called Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie. But everyone assumes it's the better-known Worms, and in fact it sounds a lot like them.

Their other well-known song "The Toronto Song" (a.k.a. "Ontario Sucks") is also pretty funny, and also normally attributed to the Arrogant Worms. Must be frustrating for them.

Will S. said...

Excellent point, Prof. Hunt!

The same can also be said of Tony Blair; his "New Labour" pose ruffled the feathers of the Old Guard, as it was a lot more moderate, politically, than they were. And yet, moderate though he was, he had no problem signing on to Bush's disastrous Iraq war, thus garnering much praise from the neo-cons.

Will S. said...

Anonymous: if you like Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie's "The War of 1812", you'll also enjoy Canadian country singer George Fox's song "Billy Green"; it used to be possible to download it directly from his website. It's not exactly humourous, but it's a great song, about the Battle of Stoney Creek, which turned the tide for the Brits after the Yanks had sacked and burned Fort York.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, I'll try to track it down. When I grew up in southwestern Ontario, the War of 1812 was still a lively part of local history. We made field trips to the major battlefields. Maybe a bit like the Revolutionary War for Americans.

My favourite 1812 anecdote: When the American forces neared the village of Zorra (east of London, Ontario), the oldest inhabitant is supposed to have said, "Och, they may tae Canada, but they'll nae tae Zorra."

Btw I normally post under the name of Intellectual Pariah (stupid, I know, but I had to come up with something on the spot one time).

Will S. said...

IP: ah, I recognize you from @ 2blowhards; you might recognize me from there (though I haven't made nearly as many posts as you, there).

Interesting about Zorra; normally, one thinks of the Scotch of SW Ontario as being more Ameriphilic than their English-Canadian counterparts (historically, the Scots and Ulster Scots being Presbyterian / Methodist, Orange Order, Liberal, pro-free-trade orientation). But perhaps that was more so, later on; earlier, they must have been as loyal as Laura Secord, Billy Green, et al.

Do you still live in SW Ontario? My ancestors are from there, but I'm from eastern Ontario, and live there still. I still have family in London, Exeter, and Kincardine; I had relatives in Walkerton, too.

Thomas said...

So a nation forcibly impressing members of our military to serve in theirs is not a reason to go to war? Is that what you mean? Well, then what the hell IS a reason to go to war?

Lester Hunt said...

Being invaded is a good one. I'd vote for that. Seriously, if the burning of Washington didn't prove that war was one of the worst ideas ever, I don't know what ever could.

Will S. said...

"The only defensible war is a war of defense.", said G.K. Chesterton, in a clever turn of phrase; and while I don't completely agree (e.g. like most people, I'm glad the Allies fought the Axis in WWII), but I certainly think the only inarguably, unequivocally, absolutely, completely defensible war, is a war of defense. Thus, any other circumstance where voices are calling for war, not involving an enemy nation invading, should be open to debate - and not just afterwards, by historians, but during, by those whose lives are affected, esp. when one or more of the warring parties are democratic countries, where the people are supposed to have some say. That's my opinion, anyway.