So, my editor apparently thought it'd be a good idea to top the column with a headline that contradicts everything I say in the column -- about Senator Feingold being the best example of the virtue of 'moderation'.
They did the same thing with a provocative front page headline last week about abstinence and sexual fantasy so, it's nice to be reminded that the opinion page's true function is to sell papers. -- more of which, next week.
In the meantime, what I'd hoped to note in this column was that political moderation is no longer popular but that it remains a virtue, well demonstrated by our own Russ Feingold.
Anyway, here's what the paper ran:
Feingold, the moderate
Push aside ethics and you’re left with politics [<- editor's contribution]
Lately I’ve been wondering whatever happened to political moderates and why being a moderate in politics is almost a dirty word. Aristotle argued that moderation is the key to virtue. Moderation encourages you to follow the middle path between extremes in order to live happily. History agrees with him. (The fancy technical term for moderation, by the way, actually showed up in the championship round of last years National Spelling Bee: it’s sophrosyne.)
Wisconsin’s tradition of progressive thinking embodies this virtue: It’s a healthy blend of fiscally conservative and socially liberal – it nails the mean between these two extremes and takes the best of both. Sen. Proxmire was a great example of this tradition: so is Sen. Feingold.
I’ve been watching along with everyone else as Congress gets ready to give away more of our money to giant agribusinesses that threaten family-sized Wisconsin farms, to Wall Street CEOs who will spend it on pheasant hunting and yachting, and to the health-care potentates who are, apparently, in bed with the leadership of both parties.
Mapping the corn maze of hidden costs by which taxpayers subsidize the food industry – mainly through massive subsidies for corn production – led me to Sen. Feingold’s Control Spending Now Act, designed to reduce the deficit by $500 billion over the next 10 years. I thought it looked like a great idea. Go Russ.
But I noticed that Sen. Feingold had to cope with some well-organized disruption during his listening session at Milwaukee Area Technical College this month. The conservative blogosphere complained that Feingold refused to listen to their grumbling about health care or about his support of Louis Butler for a federal court appointment. Frankly, the transcripts I’ve read tell a different story, but I find this complaint particularly ironic since Sen. Feingold continues to visit each county in this state every single year.
These complaints also manage to overlook the fact that he consistently embodies the virtues of our progressive Wisconsin tradition. Famously, he warned against the negative effects of NAFTA and was the only member of the Senate, apparently, who bothered to read the Patriot Act before, in an act of courage I can still barely fathom, standing up to cast the only vote against it. He doesn’t think government should legislate morality.
He voted against the initial Wall Street bailout, against the additional $350 billion in bailouts requested by the current administration and even against last year’s Omnibus Appropriations bill which had $7.7 billion tucked away inside more than 8,500 earmarks. He’s been pushing to bring back pay-as-you-go budgeting (which worked well enough, even during the testy Clinton-Gingrich era, to put the US budget into the black), and continues to refuse to accept increases to his Senate salary; the money goes back to the Treasury.
He routinely works with his Republican colleagues. He and Congressman Paul Ryan are introducing a “Janesville Line-Item Veto” that would let the president block earmarks and, of course, he continues to work with John McCain on both campaign finance reform and ending unauthorized earmarks. Doing what makes sense by avoiding the extremes defines a virtuous performance of ones duty so, go Russ.
The Tea Drinkers who disrupted Feingold’s listening session are unhappy not because he wasn’t listening to them, but because he disagrees with them. I’m still left confused by this since even the most knee-jerk Washington and Ozaukee county conservatives should be happy that the Concord Coalition put him on its “Honor Roll” for fighting government waste, or that Taxpayers for Common Sense named him their top “Taxpayer Guardian” in the Senate, or that he’s been recognized by the famously not-Democratic-Party-endorsing Club for Growth for his effort to curb wasteful government spending.
So, what’s gone so wrong that moderation has become a dirty word?
At the end of his book on ethics, Aristotle comes to the tragic conclusion that because morality requires rationality, and because “those who are governed by their passions are not amenable to reason” – which, alas, includes most of us – ethics probably won’t work most of the time. Instead of ethics, he sighs, we’ll have to make due with politics. He’s probably right.
When you reason carefully and support positions that aim for the mean between extremes, you can figure out what the real questions, and sometimes even the real answers, are – and nobody in politics wants that.