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Most Americans Are Moderates -- and Thus Invisible

3 years ago
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Most Americans want a compromise on the budget standoff, the polls say. They want strict controls to halt illegal immigration, but they want lawmakers to keep their hands off the 14th Amendment, which grants automatic citizenship to anyone born on American soil, including those whose parents are on that soil illegally. Americans hurting the most are the ones who see hope ahead, not surprising since they have the most to lose when hope is gone.

According to polls that measure such things, Americans want their politicians to work together and to listen to the voices and opinions of the people, including people with differing views on solutions to the nation's problems. If, after a short-term solution expires, the government shuts down because of disagreement on the federal budget, the American people would blame congressional Republicans and the Obama administration equally, sensing not principled opposition but rather, political gamesmanship.

When it comes to social issues as political cudgels, gay marriage doesn't appear to be as divisive as it was just a few years ago, as Americans, including young evangelicals, are easing their opposition to such unions.

So what's with all the yelling, the lines drawn in the sand?

In Wisconsin, protesters in support of maintaining bargaining rights for public-sector unions have moved into the Statehouse, as Democratic senators moved out. Gov. Scott Walker is warning of layoffs when he's not taking calls from a faux David Koch. And an activist website has gummed up the works with its own protest of Walker's actions.

Meanwhile, a new poll says that though they question the power of labor unions, most Americans oppose taking away some of the collective bargaining rights of public-employee unions, and almost as many oppose cutting the pay or benefits of those workers.

These fights are framed in meanness. It always seems to come down to working people -- worried about falling further behind -- fighting one another over scraps.

This push and pull of common-sense reflection vs. loud bickering has invaded quarters once left alone. Michelle Obama can't get consensus for a benign platform of encouraging healthy eating and exercise; she's attacked by Sarah Palin, Rep. Michele Bachmann and Rush Limbaugh, who won't be satisfied until she subsists on tree bark and spring water. (His comparing her unfavorably to Sports Illustrated swimsuit models is just bizarre, as if he'd have a chance with either.)

Mike Huckabee
, probable GOP presidential hopeful, would get credit for defending the first lady's initiative if he had not erroneously claimed that her husband, President Obama, was raised in Kenya.

One wonders how the first lady's support of military families will be turned into a negative, though I have confidence that someone will find a way.

But even as the volume is turned up and self-interest becomes paramount, those often characterized as the most intransigent can see all sides.

At an event headlined by the above-mentioned congresswoman from Minnesota, it was clear that true believers talk softly with nuance when given the chance. In the extremely red, GOP-controlled state of South Carolina, at a recent meeting of the S.C. Federation of Republican Women in Columbia, Bachmann was greeted like a rock star. As she ticked off the programs she had just voted against funding -- NPR, cap and trade and Planned Parenthood -- applause filled the room.

In conversations afterward, though, tea party and GOP activists expressed reservations about, for example, her emphasis on social issues. "I'm not like most Southerners that way," one woman told me, sounding very much like another Southern woman I had just talked with who had wished Republicans would talk less about faith-based political policies.

Another woman, who had worked in government before retiring, admitted -- quietly -- she thought that government could sometimes be a force for good. She had seen it work, she told me. Though she thought her views would be heresy in that room, her views support polls that show Americans want to reduce spending, but don't want to cut programs. That's a contradiction, to be sure, but no one ever said the logic reigns when the choices are tough.

People who loved Bachmann's energy were not yet convinced she should run for president in 2012. "I want to hear more" was something I heard a lot. Their ambivalence didn't negate the earlier cheers in the big room for sure-fire, red-meat lines. But it made the story more complicated than the usual headline or cable-show rant.

As the nonstop, never-ending campaign heats up from now until forever, will men and women speaking of compromise in reasonable tones drown out the hard-line partisans on every side? It will be up to the voters and the candidates they choose to reward and punish. In the 2010 midterms, the middle was the worst place to stake a claim, though every poll indicates that's where most Americans live.

Talk about a contradiction.

Click here to follow Mary C. Curtis on Twitter.

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