Let Us Praise Reasonable Middle America

A LITTLE over a year ago several of us so-called moderates thought it might be a good idea to discuss the Republican Party and what it was becoming. At breakfast one morning in Washington, the first order of business was to assign a name to this rather haphazardly drawn group of men and women.

The "R" Group ("R" standing for reasonable) emerged as one suggestion. The idea was quickly doused by Rep. John Miller (R) of Washington. "Nothing works around here unless it's extreme," he said. "If you want to be reasonable, you must be extremely reasonable." So began the "E.R." Group.

But the question still hung out there: Where were we heading? Where were the moderate voices we used to know?

Party conventions are not the ultimate in political barometers. Yet one thing is clear: After all the endless speechmaking, strutting of ideologies, and blurring of the hard issues, the center of the Republican Party has shifted. Today, frankly, it is different from the party I have worked so hard for over the last forty years. Its harsher, more belligerent voices do not represent, at least for me, either an appealing or an enduring base for growth in coming years.

A recent survey asked the question: How would you identify "middle class?" The answer came back: Anyone making between $20,000 and $150,000 a year - an almost meaningless range. Yet, politicians by the bucketful keep pandering to this illusory group. The issue is not the middle class. Rather, the issue is middle America. I'm not necessarily referring to the archetypal pig farmer in Illinois or the steel worker in Ohio. I mean state-of-mind middle, centered, balanced. Yes, even reasonable.

Consider the mathematical concept of the bell-shaped curve. It suggests that in numbers distribution, 10 percent will be at one extreme, 10 percent will be at the other extreme, and 80 percent will fall in the broad middle range.

Of course, fiery proponents of both the left extreme or the right extreme do not accept this conclusion. They are always right; others are always wrong.

I am an amateur politician, and a professional businessman. In either field, I have never believed in trying to change people. That is their job. My job is to try to best to serve their interests and wants. Whenever I've strayed too far from that concept, I've regretted it.

There are elements in my party that are so pure, so sure of what they want to change, and so sure about what they think people need that we now face regular attempts to purge the party of nonbelievers. My father used to tell the story of a well-known party chairman in Tennessee who boasted that he'd rather lose an election if that's what it took to keep control of the party.

I am not a Democrat, but I sense that the same type of battle goes on inside their ranks. There is the "government knows best" faction on the Democratic side. Any national problem, no matter how simple or severe, requires an automatic call to the feds. But that's not what freedom is all about. I remember hearing Walter Judd at the 1960 Republican Convention say: "I think we can state it as a law that whenever a government does for its citizens that which they have the capacity to do for themselves, indiv idually and in groups, it begins to destroy both their capacity and their incentive to do for themselves."

To be moderate or centered can be pretty dull. It's the lopsided, not the well-balanced, that gets attention. Where are the headlines in being moderate? But what are the alternatives? And from a brutally practical point of view, can 80 percent of the people be wrong?

The Abner Doubleday game called baseball, the United Nations, Social Security - all were slow moving and forgettable in their infancy. But as with anything solid, the roots dug in and the rest is history. I feel that if I get into a real mess I don't want a speechmaker or an idealist at my side. I want the calmest, the clearest head I can find; nor am I alone on this.

Isn't that what moderation is all about? It's nothing fancy, nothing dreamy - just plain old horse sense on what to do, when to do it, and who to do it for. Isn't that the way of the world? Isn't that what the 80 percent, the real middle Americans want?

And one more point. Moderates are human; they're vulnerable. We laugh at ourselves and recognize as did Judge Learned Hand in a wonderful statement: "The Spirit of Liberty is the spirit which is not too sure it is right. It is the spirit which tries to weigh others' interests alongside its own without bias."

Wise words - words I'd like my party and my country to embrace.

Where are the moderates? They are everywhere. They are you; they are me; they are the people next door. Are we winning? No, because we are being out-thought, out-talked, out-organized. Can we carry the day? Of course. But we better start soon.

My first move will be to rename "E.R." to "E.R.R." - meaning Elect Reasonable Representatives. Then I'm going to go out and do just that. Anybody want to join?

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