politics, political moderate, political commentary

The Veneer of Moderation

Ideas and Issues

May 20, 2021

New Orleans

There was a sub-head in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that was arresting. The author, identified, or more likely disguised, as only a “Florida-based writer” although seemingly a regular columnist for the rightwing tabloid, the New York Post — which is also owned, like the Journal, by the one and only, Rupert Murdoch — was making a case about the outcomes of the elections in the United Kingdom, where once again the Conservative Party, led by the unpredictable and quixotic Boris Johnson, trounced the Labour Party, and the different outcome in the United States where Democrats managed to win the presidency and take control of both houses of Congress behind the Democrats middle-of-the-road liberal-lite elder warrior, Joe Biden, over the Republicans led by the unpredictable and quixotic incumbent Donald Trump. Essentially, conceding exceptions to his rule, he argued that this “veneer of moderation,” practiced in the recent outing by the Conservatives on one hand and Biden’s Democrats on the other, was the key to their victories.

This is the vaunted and dangerous op-ed page of the Journal and this is essentially tactical commentary rewarmed and served up from one of Murdoch’s big city tabloids, so we have to be careful here of drawing conclusions too far past the line of common sense. The piece also sees this veneer as strategic in its duplicity. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was honest in his presentation of platform as was the Democrats’ Bernie Sanders, but the morale of this story is that hiding the hands that are preparing to throw the rocks behind this “veneer of moderation” is the way to win. For many of us, we might have to concede that this might be both true, and a painful pill to swallow.

Former Senator and presidential candidate George McGovern used to argue something of this sort, saying in essence to be most radical, you have to appear most conservative. Quite the trick to pull off, and certainly it didn’t work that well for McGovern. For Biden, it is likely more than a veneer. It is more like a defining identity and career history. Yet, Biden in office, has thus far been able to represent moderation sufficiently to retain huge popular support for his policies, programs, and person, while also collecting accolades from the left, or what passes for the left in the United States, for much of what he has done, once again, I’ll add, so far.

He and his administration seem to have learned more lessons from the Trump escapades of recent years than simply projecting calm and reducing drama. As master politicians, who knows where they really stand, but wherever it is, their fingers are in the wind carefully charting their course and keeping steadfastly to it. If the wind blows a different direction, that’s also where they will invariably go.

If winning is dissembling though, how can we hope for an honest politics? Can we substitute tone and temperament as the veneer, while keeping truth in advertising and platform? Could such a strategy, embodied by candidates, keep us on a path to progress, even as the pendulum swings magnetically back to the middle in politics over and over again?

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