One of the most important words in American political speech is "moderate." The same thing, of course, is true in the world of religion. "Moderates" are nice. They are smart, constructive and nuanced.
Extreme people are mean and extreme, and that often means dangerous. "Extreme" conservatives or even "radical" conservatives are even worse than regular conservatives. I guess that the same thing would be true of "extreme" liberals, only that there are almost none on the American political scene. There are "moderates" and, out on the edge, "progressives" and others who want progress (as opposed to those who want to stay put or even regress).
There are candid journalists who realize that "moderate" is a loaded word. For example, take that statement by New York Times editor Bill Keller that we have discussed here in the past, from one of his documents linked to an internal committee asking how his newspaper can do a better job of relating to its readers:
We must . . . be more alert to nuances of language when writing about contentious issues. The committee picked a few examples -- the way the word "moderate" conveys a judgment about which views are sensible and which are extreme, the misuse of "religious fundamentalists" to describe religious conservatives -- but there are many pitfalls involved when we try to convey complex ideas as simply as possible, on deadline.
I thought about this issue while reading George Skelton's Capitol Journal report in the Los Angeles Times arguing that this election proved that California isn't a blue state at all out on the left coast. No, California is a pastel state or, at most, a light-blue state.
In other words, California is a "moderate" state. Offer California a "moderate" GOP candidate like Rudy Giuliani or, of course, the Governator and this becomes perfectly obvious.
This is not a deep blue state, regardless of recent presidential elections. Color us light blue, if you must.
... Currently, and over the long haul, we're centrists. Sure, we've voted for the Democratic candidate in the last four presidential races. But in the previous 10 elections, we voted nine times for the Republican. Each of those contests had its own dynamic, but party label was the least of it. This state never has been and is not now solidly Democratic.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's overwhelming reelection victory is Exhibit A of California centrism. The governor ran as a typical state voter: anti-tax, fiscally prudent, pro-environment and left-leaning on social issues like abortion. He was supported by 57% of moderates, a Times exit poll found. That pretty much mirrored his overall vote, about 56%. This state is not consistently liberal and, except on certain issues, definitely isn't conservative.
The best hope for the GOP, writes Skelton, is that there is "a Ronald Reagan out there somewhere."
What in the world does that mean?
As a rule, it seems that the newspaper's definition of "moderate" is conservative on economic and business issues, and perhaps on military issues, yet liberal on social issues.
If that is what "moderate" means, what do you do with the folks who march with the Rev. Jim Wallis, the new old Democrats and others of that ilk? Can someone be a "moderate" if they are liberal on economic issues and conservative on moral issues? What would the Los Angeles Times call that kind of voter or candidate?
Actually, there is a clue later in the article:
We're sometimes liberal, rejecting -- for the second straight year -- an initiative to require parental notification before a minor can obtain an abortion. But we're conservative on law and order, placing residency restrictions and GPS tracking devices on paroled sexual predators.
"This is not a liberal state, it is a libertarian state," says Democratic consultant Darry Sragow. "Basically, its about Western American values."
Ah, that makes more sense. "Moderate" equals liberalism on social issues.
So, once again, let me ask: What would editors at the Los Angeles Times say that "liberalism" looks like on moral, social and cultural issues? Is liberalism even possible on these issues? So Hollywood is full of "moderates"?
Second image is from Take Back Red California.