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`Moderate’ may be vilified, but it isn’t a bad position to take

SHARE `Moderate’ may be vilified, but it isn’t a bad position to take

As a citizen concerned with the future of our public schools, communities and government institutions, I am troubled by the vindictive, mean-spirited rhetoric that seems to be dominating nearly every current public policy debate. Two recent editorials in the Deseret News, by Marianne Jennings ("Range Rover Republicans should find a new party," June 29) and Don Ruzicka ("Death notices on conservative uprising are greatly exaggerated," July 5), epitomize this culture of political yelling that is destroying our society's ability to reach common-ground solutions to hard problems.

In her piece, Ms. Jennings skewers Republicans who dare to question the social conservatism of "moralists" like "Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer and James Dobson," and who have the wisdom to seek political compromise with Democrats. Rather than recognizing and respecting the fact that Republicans of good will may choose to disagree with the social policy articulated by devout religious party "loyalists," Ms. Jennings chooses instead to engage in vitriolic name-calling, referring to faithful public servants like Sen. Orrin Hatch and the late Barry Goldwater as "Range Rover Republicans."Perhaps most disturbing about Ms. Jennings' posture is not that she compares centrist Republican officials with a luxury sport-utility vehicle (one might say that her description is positive insofar as "4x4" politicians have traction on all four wheels and don't slip around as much!) but that she stoops to making the accusation that such Republicans care nothing about morality, and in fact, "don't want a conscience." Lambasting Republicans who do not support her philosophies or the "correct" moral agenda as wealthy, out-of-touch snobs, Jennings claims that they will be pushed aside literally by force as the "social issues they ignored seize everything from their Red Door Salon days to their children's schools."

For his part, Mr. Ruzicka demonizes high-ranking Republican officials in Utah, including Gov. Mike Leavitt, as being "monarchs" in whose vocabularies the words "hypocrite" and "unethical" do not exist. Like Ms. Jennings, Mr. Ruzicka denounces Republicans who dare gravitate to the middle or who support the governor's agenda; in Ruzicka's view those who do not support his personal ideology and that of the Utah Republican Assembly are "dangerous" to "true conservatism."

Interestingly, neither Jennings nor Ruzicka appear to have any qualms about engaging in the same type of stereotyping and labeling that they so vehemently decry. Ruzicka, for example, declares that the "usually self-imposed label of moderate is a disingenuous attempt to mask liberalism and legitimize calling others `extreme.' " Jennings is even more pointed, suggesting that her party has been infiltrated by Pinnochio-type representatives she calls "spineless Republicans."

Is something wrong with this picture? First, even if you accept, which I don't, that the term "moderate" is a "self-imposed label," what is so horribly bad about that? Ruzicka and Jennings certainly don't seem to have a problem with labeling themselves as "moralists" or "true conservatives." Second, since when did "moderate" become a profanity within our communities and political organizations? Webster's New World Dictionary defines "moderate" the adjective as "within reasonable limits; avoiding extremes; mild; calm" and "moderate" the noun as "one holding moderate opinions." It certainly does not mean, in my case or others, that one lacks principle, lacks moral standards or lacks a conscience. I certainly don't drive a Range Rover or anything like it (unless you count my all-wheel drive Subaru wagon), but I do believe we could use a few more moderates thus defined.

If we are ever going to get beyond selfish positions and resolve complex public policy issues for the general good of all citizens, it is imperative that we stop screaming and accusing those with whom we disagree of bad faith. In one of a string of recent articles emphasizing both the decline, as well as the importance, of civility, David Gergen wrote a provocative piece in U.S. News and World Report titled "Who Stole the Kumbaya Spirit?" (U.S. News & World Report, Nov. 25, 1996, p. 122). Commenting that George Washington as the first president did not believe in "government by uproar," Gergen quotes a letter Washington wrote to Thomas Jefferson in the midst of some extreme political battles, in which Washington stated: "My earnest wish and my fondest hope is that, instead of wounding suspicions and irritable charges, there may be liberal allowances, mutual forbearances and temporizing yieldings on all sides."

I'm not sure whether "moderates" are in the majority or not here in Utah, or elsewhere. All I know is that I'm personally comfortable with being one and admire others who, regardless of label, are "mild, calm, and within reasonable limits." Ms. Jennings claims that those of us Republicans who fail to align with Ralph Reed et. al. "threaten to run to the adoring arms of Robin Williams and his merry band of Democrats." News flash, Ms. Jennings. Some of us have done more than threaten.