In defense of 'extremism'

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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.

Comments (83) Add comment
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sjgraci
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sjgraci 11/04/09 - 10:19 am
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Here's the deal with

Here's the deal with Libertarians that the chronicle conveniently fails to mention: They Are Social Liberals. Yes they are fiscal conservatives but it is easy to see why they may be torn. Sad that they regulary voted with their wallets over their liberties and voted far too many Social Conservatives into office but that's the way they are. Fact is, most Libertarians have finally woken up and quit supporting the radical right wing CONServatives who make up the Republican party. They have far more in common with Liberals, Progressives, Moderate Democrats, and Conservative Democrats (Blue Dogs) than they do the CONS that make up the majority of the Republican Party.

Riverman1
90139
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Riverman1 11/04/09 - 10:29 am
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Wylie, ah, another one comes

Wylie, ah, another one comes on board. Someone who is not afraid to question what truth is, someone who questions someone telling him what values are best. Someone who rejects Platonism and decides for himself. Nietzsche did the same thing when he repudiated socialism. Don't let the government make you work for it in hopes it will take care of your needs. That's slavery. I'll bet the farm, you can do a better job of taking care of yourself if you try.

HotFoot
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HotFoot 11/04/09 - 10:40 am
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Although the rightwingers on

Although the rightwingers on this board like to paint me as a hardcore liberal, I'm much more moderate in my views than they are--certainly, I am not in the 15% of hard lefties, since I am a strong supporter of the military and of spending on defense and intelligence. The young man quoted in the editorial was merely ignorant, not a moderate. As many have pointed out, the world is not black and white and one must be able to tolerate ambiguity and navigate complexity. It is simply too much for some people, and those are just the kind of people who should NOT be charting this country's course.

justthefacts
23737
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justthefacts 11/04/09 - 10:46 am
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Steve, good post.

Steve, good post.

convertedsoutherner
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convertedsoutherner 11/04/09 - 10:51 am
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It's interesting to see how

It's interesting to see how some seem to think they have the right to decide who is more tolerant and who are able to navigate the complexity.

OBX
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OBX 11/04/09 - 10:51 am
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"Although the rightwingers on

"Although the rightwingers on this board like to paint me as a hardcore liberal, I'm much more moderate in my views than they are--certainly"..Posted by HotFoot ...Yet you make your judgement by how and what others post. If I were to look back at some of your posts I could concur that you do perhaps lean farther to left than you yourself would like to believe. Don't for a minute think that since you support the military and defense spending that those two interest in anyway dimish the far liberal left rhetoric you constantly support.

WhippingPost
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WhippingPost 11/04/09 - 11:04 am
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Tolerating ambiguity is still

Tolerating ambiguity is still another way of saying "uninformed about a situation" or "unwilling to take a stand" about a specific situation and feeling that the lack of commitment is acceptable. Well, I guess for situations that have no influence on me or don't in any way require any responsibility from me, then tolerating ambiguity is an acceptable way to deal with the situation. However, if a situation requires my participation and responsible behavior from me or requires me to contribute in any way, then tolerating ambiguity is just silly....and irritating. Not complaining, under these circumstances is irresponsible.

WhippingPost
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WhippingPost 11/04/09 - 11:08 am
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Tolerating ambiguity is fine

Tolerating ambiguity is fine for situations that never enter the realm of right and wrong.

carcraft
27780
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carcraft 11/04/09 - 11:12 am
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The problem with the last

The problem with the last election as I said earlier was that NOBODY in the tingles in my leg press asked Obama about his sealed records (an odd occurance in American politics, Clinton sealed some medical records, Hillary sealed he college thesis). Nobody in the tingles in my legs press asked Obama about his view that the American constitution was deeply flawed etc. We did read about troper gate, Palin getting hair care for free, Bristol being pregnant etc all issues that needed deep exploration by the tingle in the leg press! People are waking up to the fact that Obama is not a little left of center. Obama is a Left wing idiologue. I do not think he has the ability Bill Clinton did to shift to the center!!!

KSL
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KSL 11/04/09 - 11:32 am
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Nor the intention.

Nor the intention.

southernguy08
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southernguy08 11/04/09 - 11:55 am
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HOTFOOT, you mean the same
Unpublished

HOTFOOT, you mean the same people who are charting our nation's course now? We have a president with no administrative experience leading us, and we see just what that has gotten us. Yet, if anybody dares to complain or disagree with his policies, we're labeled as racists, hatemongers, or extremists. Bush was labeled every kind of profane insult you can imagine. Nobody called those detractors racists, hatemongers, or extremists. What is different now? I thought the Obama election wasn't about race, according to his supporters.

jack
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jack 11/04/09 - 12:05 pm
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WP(Patricia Thomas): We on

WP(Patricia Thomas): We on the left take Colbert, Stewart, and Maher for what they are, comedians. Sad that you on the right can't tell that Rush, Hannity, Beck, etc. are the same.
Posted by TechLover on Wed Nov 4, 2009 8:52 AM....unlike these comedians, Rush is rated correct/accurate 99.9% of the time by an independent rating organization. Beck and Hanity are yet to be proven wrong about BimbObma and his admin that is the reason Fox has been attacked by BimbObama and his Chicago thugs in the WH.(a really stupid move to attack the highest rated cable news channel). BTW, I (and Beck) are still waiting for his red phone to he WH to ring to specifically debate what he has stated about BimbObama and his minions as being "lies" and "misinformation" .

jack
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jack 11/04/09 - 12:09 pm
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It's a shame that even with

It's a shame that even with their Messiah( Rush) and their Savior ( Palin) campaigning, they still lost a seat that they held for 15 years.
Posted by ispy4u on Wed Nov 4, 2009 8:55 AM...Not a bad race and loss for a guy who was running as an independent that hardly anyone ever heard of before. Seems your "messiah"'s (BimbObama) wasted time in NJ and VA didn't help so I gues the glitter is dying on him. Would have been better time spent trying to learn how to be Preesident /CinC.

Riverman1
90139
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Riverman1 11/04/09 - 12:34 pm
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Does anyone think Matthews,

Does anyone think Matthews, Olberman and Maddow have gone way past anything Rush and Co. have done and they are actually hurting the Democratic cause? They open with personal attacks, not on the issues, on a regular basis. Matthews was called on it last night by the VA Congressman. Anyone see it? Thoughts?

jack
10
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jack 11/04/09 - 12:40 pm
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Here's the deal with

Here's the deal with Libertarians that the chronicle conveniently fails to mention: They Are Social Liberals. Yes they are fiscal conservatives but it is easy to see why they may be torn. Sad that they regulary voted with their wallets over their liberties and voted far too many Social Conservatives into office but that's the way they are. Fact is, most Libertarians have finally woken up and quit supporting the radical right wing CONServatives who make up the Republican party. They have far more in common with Liberals, Progressives, Moderate Democrats, and Conservative Democrats (Blue Dogs) than they do the CONS that make up the majority of the Republican Party.
Posted by sjgraci on Wed Nov 4, 2009 10:19 AM...it is fortunate that libertarians will vote far more quickly for a conservative Republican than a DiMocRAT (even a so-called blue dog DIM) as they know to elect a DIMocRAT is to really vote with your wallet with higher taxes. The current Congress and President are prime examples. The "blue dogs" have virturally always turned out to be Pilosi lap dogs, and will pay the price in 2010.

HotFoot
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HotFoot 11/04/09 - 01:23 pm
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Jack, you must be an old

Jack, you must be an old white man. According to an article in this week's New Yorker, more than 50% of Fox News' audience is over the age of 63, and the vast majority of viewers of Beck, Hannity, and O'Reilly are men.
http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2009/11/02/091102taco_talk_menand. This doesn't surprise me, but it pleases me. Why? Because it won't be too many years before your generation of bitter old men die off and then maybe this country can get on with it.

KSL
139473
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KSL 11/04/09 - 01:30 pm
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Wow, HotFoot. You are

Wow, HotFoot. You are unbelievable.

southernguy08
532
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southernguy08 11/04/09 - 01:55 pm
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Oh, well if it's from the New
Unpublished

Oh, well if it's from the New Yorker, it's gotta be true, right? Funny how Libs are always accusing Conservatives of racism, yet a well known Lib like HOTFOOT opens his last post with a race remark. Keep posting Hot, the 2010 elections will be here soon, and the elections last night show that more "change" is coming! Yes, I am a white man, but only 53. Sorry. But I do watch Fox News, sometimes.

Notreally
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Notreally 11/04/09 - 01:59 pm
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HotFoot is speaking the

HotFoot is speaking the truth.

HotFoot
17
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HotFoot 11/04/09 - 02:02 pm
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Listen, KSL, when Jack calls

Listen, KSL, when Jack calls my President "BimbObama" and my party the "DIMocrats"; when he constantly refers to Chicago, a city where I've lived contentedly enough, in terms of "thugs"; when he claims that some unnamed "independent rating organization" has rated Rush as correct "99.9% of the time"; when he also claims that Beck and Hannity have "yet to be proven wrong"; when he floats this sort of b.s. daily, I feel entitled to comment on his age, race, and gender and cite the demographics of the FOX "News" audience. The only problem with his kind dying out like the dinosaurs they are is that I won't be far behind. At least, my kids and grandkids can enjoy it.

common1sense
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common1sense 11/04/09 - 02:04 pm
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There are many reasons why a

There are many reasons why a mushy middle gets mushy. Sometimes it is laziness, sometimes it is too much affluence (not wealth, affluence), sometimes it is depression, sometimes it is a feeling of lack of control, sometimes it is shyness, etc. My thoughts are that the middle sees too many rules and regulations that cause them to throw up their hands and give up. Our forefathers went out into the world, and made their own way, often with violence, yet we don't want violence back into our lives, but we do need to be able to 'make our own way' without so many unnecessary municipal and governmental rules and regulations. Too much is 'done by committee', which means time is wasted and nothing gets done. We are moving back three steps for every baby step forward. Can the middle still stand up and make necessary changes? I can't say if I'm in the middle, or at the top middle, or just where I am, but I can say that I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore. Your money is your biggest vote. Bank with credit unions, do all business with people you would have as friends, or guests in your home; research and understand. Use your brains.

KSL
139473
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KSL 11/04/09 - 02:22 pm
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So someone calls names and

So someone calls names and you are justified in taking pleasure in thoughts of their demise. What's the next step after that? Executing people who disagree with you? That's been done. What you state and what you justify are quite telling about the kind of person you are, Foot. By the way, Niko has a nice name for Republicans. And if you are honest, you have to admit that the politics in Chicago is and has been quite corrupt for a very long time.

Harmonielehre
0
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Harmonielehre 11/04/09 - 02:36 pm
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Just for thought though:

Just for thought though: Isn't saying that there are no absolutes an inherent contradiction because you are trying to disprove absolutes with an absolute?

Harmonielehre
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Harmonielehre 11/04/09 - 02:38 pm
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Honestly KSL, the best thing

Honestly KSL, the best thing that could happen to America right now is if we voted out every single member of Congress in 2010...

Harmonielehre
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Harmonielehre 11/04/09 - 02:40 pm
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Hotfoot, how would you feel

Hotfoot, how would you feel if I said that all black people were lazy drug-addicts that only vote Democrat because they want something for nothing? Making inferences on race or trying to state that only middle-aged white people watch Fox News is intellectually lazy and borderline stupid.

Steve Wylie
3
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Steve Wylie 11/04/09 - 03:08 pm
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I keep laughing as I read new

I keep laughing as I read new comments because the argument continues between hard and fast ideas and ideas that are flexible. For instance, there is no "middle". That is an absolutist construct; whenver someone with more flexible thinking engages that idea, however, it is accepted as a fact in the mind of the absolutist. Instead, there are many different people with many different ideas in this mythical "middle". The problem with the argument for extremism is that yes, an extremist knows what he or she wants for certain. But if everyone were an extremist we would have no compromise. When you get a group of different people in the room to make a decision for the group, they have to be willing to accept some things they do not like in order to get some things that they do like. This is the foundation of our government and society. That our society has become progressively more diverse since its founding does make for a broader argument, but the principle of decision remains the same: compromise. Extremists do not compromise and that creates polarization and strife.

bdittle
78
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bdittle 11/04/09 - 03:28 pm
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What men want is not

What men want is not knowledge, but certainty. -Bertrand Russell

HotFoot
17
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HotFoot 11/04/09 - 03:51 pm
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KSL, I take no pleasure in

KSL, I take no pleasure in contemplating any individual person's demise, only the passing of an era. That's a long way from wanting to execute people who disagree with me. And harmonielehre, I'm not inferring "that only middle-aged white people watch Fox News", I'm citing research on that network's audience demographics. It's not my opinion, in other words. It's only a slam if you think, as I do, that Fox News is biased, sensational, and at times promulgates outright lies and misinformation. Steve Wylie's and bdittle's points about absolutes are well taken.

justthefacts
23737
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justthefacts 11/04/09 - 04:01 pm
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Don't worry, our kids and

Don't worry, our kids and grandkids won't have time to watch any television. They will working their tails off trying to pay off the debt we are leaving them.

Roeschen
1
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Roeschen 11/04/09 - 04:11 pm
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HotFoot - do you think that

HotFoot - do you think that CNN only tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? I can answer that - NO. In fact, Gates castigated CNN for reporting lies about shooting on the Potomac River on 9/11/09 and causing mass pandemonium. No apology from CNN. And, I am glad you liked living in Chicago. However, it is a mob run city and has been for over 100 years. The politicians are corrupt, almost as corrupt as the former governor of Illinois, the only governor in Illinois 190 year history to be impeached. BTW, there are still questions about obama's part in that escapade. Axlerod insisted obama had talked to Blagojevich about senate replacements - then obama insisted he had not. You know how that ended - Axlerod stated he had made a mistake. Another of obama's lies.

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