Our normal perception of politics as a left-to-right, liberal-to-conservative straight line distorts political reality. This linear approach leaves leftwing loonies and rightwing kooks at opposite ends of the political spectrum when, in fact, they share their main characteristic of intolerance.
So, take that straight line and bend it into a circle and you will find it still has a left side and a right side. And, middle-of-the-road moderates can rest at the top. Then, to balance the figure, we can put extremism opposite moderation at the bottom of the circle.
When liberals and conservatives work together as our system is designed, they approach a moderation of shared aspirations – say, the survival and prosperity of the republic.
And, as some on each side become more radical, they fall toward an extreme where ideology becomes secondary to their goal of total control.
Would you rather live in a communist dictatorship or under fascists?
Whether you slide down to extremism from the left or right side of the circle becomes irrelevant. Tyranny is tyranny. The lack of individual rights under either setup would prove comparable – except for true believers of either ilk, who, then, usually initiate purges to weed out any who fall short of ultimate devotion and obedience.
To make the situation even clearer, draw straight lines vertically and horizontally to divide the circle into four equal pieces of pie designating the more and less moderate sections of each persuasion – or Democrats and Republicans in our case.
Those above the horizontal line for either party represent what was once the standard of mutual respect and collegiality. These folks could fight tooth and nail all day, figure out mutually agreeable positions and share a meal or libation at the end of the day.
Some Oklahoma Democratic Party elders still take this view, to the detriment of party unity. This is because of the current absence of moderate Republicans.
In states with commanding majorities, Republicans try to limit voter participation to themselves, force everyone to abide by their peculiar (ir)religious beliefs, pander to bullies and bigots and do all they can to make their rich patrons richer in hopes of picking up scraps ala remoras.
As I said, the only moderates are Democrats. There were many moderate Republicans before Donald Trump took office. But his threats of primary purges inspired most of them to retire as cowards for not standing up for their principles instead of losing an election to an extremist.
So, right now, our moderates are Democrats, But, from the deep southeast side of the conservative circle where GOPQ conspiracy theorists and fascists camp out, moderates are so far away as to appear more liberal than they really are.
There are extremists, too, on the left side of the circle. But, their influence is much quieter than their rhetoric. AND, their misguided efforts to “primary” moderates have repeatedly failed – a lesson they seem slow to learn.
Litmus tests of ideological purity – on either side of the circle – reveal a rigidity that demands rejection. Ideologies become frozen, incapable of the adaptation necessary in an ever-changing world.
It is from the vicinity of the left/right bulges in the party circles where new ideas arise. (Pretend there are moderate Republicans.) Those people don’t look at things the same way as their more moderate colleagues.
Their insights provide what Robert Pirsig would call the dynamic quality that budges the static quality of the status quo, also necessary to preserve the whole.
But, sometimes the ideators who fuel a party’s intellectual development become ideologues, caught in a receding past as if authors who keep re-writing that first bestseller ad nauseam.
I was once a pragmatic ideologue, railing against the (corrupt is understood) system from an extreme that allowed allies to appear more moderate by comparison. (Have you ever been compared to a rabid dog?)
It’s sorta fun; invective is my second language. You are always right (by self-definition). But, it is a position that wins few converts to your cause – another lesson available free of charge to intransigent ideologues.
I am a liberal, but I am a realist and a pragmatist. The only way to achieve total ideological purity is by descending to extremist tyranny. Republicans are trying that from their side of the circle right now. It ill-serves Democrats to try to match that play. Aristotle and Perceval would both say that we need to find the middle way.
(Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party. Longer versions of his columns can be found at scdpok.us or facebook.com/SCDPOK/.)