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They Expect Results

So who are these angry voters? I call them “restless and anxious moderates,” or RAMs. Most come from the third of the electorate that identifies itself as independent, but some Democrats and Republicans have also joined this new bloc. These voters tend to be practical, non-ideological and unabashedly results-oriented — people such as Gary Butler, 60, who lives in Show Low, Ariz.  Both parties, he says, “are way too far apart, and nobody is looking out for the good of the people.”

“Address my life and the problems I face in my terms,” another RAM told me. “Cut political rhetoric, cut political fighting, cut the game-playing, stop the five-point programs; just address my issues in a real-world, straightforward way.” ~Douglas E. Schoen

Speaking as an independent who is known to get angry about political matters from time to time, I find this sort of view annoying and extremely frustrating.  Once rhetoric, political fighting, “game-playing,” and “five-point programs” are cut out, not only do politicians have very few means available with which they can “address issues,” but I am doubtful that anyone could draft a policy, organise a coalition, persuade fence-sitters and pass actual, you know, legislation without some measure of all of these things that the archetypal RAM above wants to throw out.  There is something deeply anti-political and actually unethical in the desire for the sort of deep bipartisanship that such people desire.  It is as if varied and opposed interests of constituencies in a large country were anything other than natural and unavoidable.  Viewed from a traditional conservative persecptive, these complaints of polarisation are the hardest to take, since there is nothing more clear to us on the right than the frequent agreement of both parties on many, though not all, major policy questions.  What is worse is that these “moderates” usually cannot describe what “results” they want to see, and so necessarily have difficulty selecting the policies that would get them those results and likewise later have difficulty assessing whether they have, in fact, received the results they wanted.  Such voters are ideal fodder for shoring up the status quo and the existing establishment consensus on some of the most significant areas of policy (e.g., trade, foreign policy, etc.), because they can be lulled into thinking that a stifling elite consensus that supports reckless or short-sighted policies is the same thing as a government that is showing “results.”  When in doubt, call for bipartisanship. 

These “moderates” claim to be pragmatic, but are fundamentally, one might even say ideologically, opposed to using tools of persuasion (rhetoric) and political maneuvering necessary to do anything.  They claim to be interested in results, but are interested neither in the details of proposed policies (those hateful five-point programs) nor in any of the tools legislators must use to achieve those results.  The so-called RAM is the perfect example of a variety of mass man that is not even interested in mass politics, someone who not only isn’t interested in how his political institutions work, but who also assumes that engaging in politics–the very sort of action that pragmatists should appreciate–is itself without value and a corruption of whatever it is that they think politicians are supposed to do (“address issues”!).  These are the sort of people who are perfect targets for appeals from an Obama promising “change” and a new and improved politics, and who will almost immediately after voting for him return to griping about his use of political rhetoric and all the rest, even though the reason he won them over was through the use of soaring, often quite empty, but nonetheless attractive rhetoric.

P.S.  The final suggestion in the article (the creation of a McCain-Lieberman ticket) and the claim that Joe Lieberman is a “well-regarded moderate,” when he is neither moderate nor all that well-regarded, encapsulate everything that is wrong with arguments for a “post-partisan” political order.  In this world of Broderism run amok, McCain and Lieberman are the ideal candidates to transcend the partisan divide because their respective party bases despise them but they have numerous admirers on the other side of the aisle.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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