In defense of 'extremism'

Conventional wisdom says it's America's political extremes that are the problem with the body politic. If only people could meet in the middle, we'd all be better off.


We're not so sure it isn't the mushy middle that's the problem.

There is a certain percentage of Americans who exist on the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. For argument's sake, let's just arbitrarily say that 15 percent of the electorate is rabidly liberal and 15 percent is extremely conservative. Yes, surveys show committed conservatives are about double loyal liberals, but that's not the point here. So, just for this particular discussion, let's assume 70 percent of Americans are in the middle.

That's considered in many circles, and certainly in the major news media, to be a high compliment, a positive character trait -- that someone could go either way on any issue at any time, makes decisions on a case-by-case basis, votes "for the person, not the party."

But is that such a good thing after all? Let's look at that.

The result of having a mushy middle is huge swings in national character. One year we're a conservative country, the next we're looking essentially at socialized medicine.

That's not being "reasonable." That's indecision to the point of schizophrenia. That's not knowing yourself.

It affects every aspect of our lives, too. How can businesses plan their financial futures in such a volatile political climate? We seem to move from revolution to revolution. The pendulum swings so quickly back and forth it's dizzying.

The bottom line is, America is simply confused about what it is and what it believes. America has always been a country of ideas; it simply doesn't know what those ideas are anymore. And the reason is that so many Americans seem to be so clueless about what they believe.

Say what you want about diehard liberals and conservatives, but at least they have moorings. They know what they believe and they act on it.

Honestly, isn't the notion of "extremism" overblown today? Haven't the media sold us a bill of goods -- the hokum that anyone who has a solid set of values and unwavering core principles is an "extremist"?

Is that really being extreme? Or is it just knowing what you believe?

Is it so much better, so high-minded, to not know?

Consider this real-life example: A 20-something who was interviewed recently admitted he wanted to vote for libertarian Ron Paul, but ultimately would have voted for Barack Obama last year -- if he'd gotten around to voting.

Come again? How do you get from a libertarian to an ultra-liberal without passing go and collecting $200? Paul sees almost no role for government; Obama has never met a government role he didn't like. And this voter was torn between them? That's like being torn between a salad and a slab of ribs.

And it's emblematic of a voter who has no clue what he believes.

So are the "retired electrical engineer who became a Democrat to support Mr. Obama" and "a teacher who voted for Mr. Obama because she was fed up with President George W. Bush," two Iowans expressing disenchantment with Obama in recent interviews with The New York Times .

Judging from the frenetic back-and-forth of recent American elections, there are millions more where they came from.

Being flexible is one thing. Being out to lunch on the biggest issues of the day -- the size and scope of government, national security, abortion and more -- is something else entirely.

Your beliefs may change over time.

But at least have some.