Opinion

In praise of moderation

For democracy to work, parties need to meet in the middle

Beware the purists. To get anything done in this messy, contentious world, you have to accept that other people have different values and objectives than you do. The trick is to find some overlapping middle ground where you get part of what you want. In a divided democracy of 330 million people, compromise is essential; as Washington politicians once implicitly understood, half a loaf is better than none. But in recent years, our politics have become deeply polarized, as the bases of the Republican and Democratic parties have moved further right and left, respectively. Cutting deals has become a lost, or perhaps abandoned, art. That's why the government briefly shut down last weekend. It's why forging a compromise on immigration that can pass both houses of Congress — and get past presidential adviser Stephen Miller's veto — will be so difficult. Both parties' bases are demanding total victory, and calling congressional leaders who are willing to take half a loaf wimps and sellouts.

Most Americans, I believe, still fall somewhere within a few degrees of center on the political spectrum, and instinctively distrust extremists. But in an overwrought political climate defined by the shouting partisans on cable news, moderation and compromise have fallen into ill repute. That's a guarantee of gridlock and dysfunction. In a defense of moderation, conservative writer Peter Wehner has pointed out that a smart strategist can be driven by moral ideals even while charting a pragmatic course. "Moderation," he says, "takes into account what is needed at any given moment; it allows circumstances to determine action in the way that weather patterns dictate which route a ship will follow." Victories achieved without some buy-in from the opposition are often short-lived — and followed by intense backlashes that can wipe out nearly everything that was gained. On immigration, as on many issues, there is a reasonable middle ground — if the purists will let us get there.

More From...

Picture of William FalkWilliam Falk
Read All
Patrick Henry in China
Protesters.
Talking Points

Patrick Henry in China

Falling from the sky
Sam Bankman-Fried.
Talking Points

Falling from the sky

It will get worse
A view of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's house following an attack on her husband.
Talking Points

It will get worse

No, it's not over
A nurse.
Talking Points

No, it's not over

Recommended

White House says there are currently no plans for Biden to talk to Putin
President Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2021.
At An Impasse

White House says there are currently no plans for Biden to talk to Putin

Patrick Henry in China
Protesters.
Picture of William FalkWilliam Falk

Patrick Henry in China

Home of Iranian climber who competed without hijab reportedly destroyed
Rekabi in interview
Iran protests

Home of Iranian climber who competed without hijab reportedly destroyed

White House affirms 'the Holocaust happened'
Ye, formerly known as Kanye West
History 101

White House affirms 'the Holocaust happened'

Most Popular

Once-a-decade critics' poll names greatest film ever
Movie theater
we come to this place for magic

Once-a-decade critics' poll names greatest film ever

Home of Iranian climber who competed without hijab reportedly destroyed
Rekabi in interview
Iran protests

Home of Iranian climber who competed without hijab reportedly destroyed

Houston police arrest 2 in connection with killing of Migos rapper Takeoff
Migos rapper Takeoff memorial billboard
'an innocent bystander'

Houston police arrest 2 in connection with killing of Migos rapper Takeoff