David Brooks defends “moderation”:
The moderate tries to preserve the tradition of conflict, keeping the opposing sides balanced. She understands that most public issues involve trade-offs. In most great arguments, there are two partially true points of view, which sit in tension. The moderate tries to maintain a rough proportion between them, to keep her country along its historic trajectory.
Never mind that maintaining a “rough proportion” between “two partially true points of view” sounds an awful lot like “finding the midpoint between two opposing poles.” Most moderates tend to favor one side or the other on policy questions. They don’t try to maintain balance or tension in these arguments. They side with one view or the other just like everyone else. Moderates just happen to have a configuration of political views different from more consistently conservative or liberal Americans. This doesn’t necessarily make them any more historically-minded or less inclined to accept ideological abstractions.
A self-described moderate such as Brooks can wax romantic about the tradition of Hamilton and Teddy Roosevelt because he has definite assumptions about what the role of government ought to be, and embracing that tradition inevitably requires him to reject the alternatives. Because of this, Brooks tends to be allergic to arguments that promote liberty and decentralization, and he typically sides with arguments for centralization. He consistently sides with activist, “energetic” government and frequently errs on the side of government intervention. The point is that moderates haven’t been maintaining a balance between competing traditions. Most of them clearly favor one over the other, and they argue and vote accordingly. For a certain sort of moderate, activist and “energetic” government is always part of the solution to the problem, no matter what it is.
Brooks’ description of political “moderation” is quite misleading. What makes Republicans “moderate” in the modern American context is that they tend to disagree with the right on social and cultural issues while still disagreeing with the left on fiscal and economic ones, and the reverse is usually true for “moderates” or “centrists” among Democrats. This is not because they are free from a priori assumptions, but because they share assumptions on different sets of issues that are not normally supposed to “go together” according to standard partisan or ideological definitions.
Brooks clearly does believe that some policies are “permanently right.” There are no circumstances in which Brooks would think that a reduced U.S. role in the world is acceptable, and there are no circumstances in which he would conceivably oppose a free trade agreement. I have difficulty imagining a scenario in which Brooks would say that immigration had reached a point where it needed to be reduced. Perhaps he doesn’t speak for most moderates, but he is a good example of how self-described moderates often endorse status quo policies.