Originally published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth, 2004-11-18. You can find many articles on “Moderate Manifesto” published since then by many authors since.
A spectre is haunting America – the spectre of divisiveness. All the powers of old grudges have entered into an unholy alignment to excite this spectre: freethinker and evangelical, Moore and Limbaugh, urban radicals and exurban commuters.
Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as divisive by its opponents in power?
Where is the Opposition that has not hurled the branding reproach of divisiveness against more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?
Two things result from this fact:
1. Moderation is sadly needed by all American powers to become itself a power.
2. It is high time that Moderates should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the spectre of divisiveness with a manifesto of moderation itself.
To this end, a Party of One assembled in Duluth and sketched the following manifesto, to be published, sadly, in only one newspaper and in only the English language.
A moderate party would be based on four principles:
1. Strive for a balance between individual liberty and public good.
2. Discuss issues openly and respectfully.
3. Provide and pay for government services at the appropriate level.
4. Use party policies as guidelines. Individual officeholders are free to make independent decisions based on the first three principles.
We need a balance between individual liberty and public good because too much liberty for some leads to harm to others and too much public good leads to loss of liberty for all. On the other hand, too little liberty leads to a lack of creativity and too little public good leads to a lack of infrastructure to support creativity and the movement of people, goods, and ideas.
We need open and respectful discussion of issues to allow voice for a wide range of ideas. Hardened opinions lead only to more hardened opinions. “Our side is right and your side is wrong.” Ideas lead to more ideas. Rather than debates to win voters to one candidate or another, we need conversations to define what the real problems are and what possible solutions are available.
We need to provide for government services at the appropriate levels as well as levy the taxes at those levels that provide the services. We avoid taxes at lower levels of government and demand more services from higher levels of government. This has several pernicious effects. As we avoid taxes at lower levels, local governments have few resources to provide the services local communities want.
The demand for the local services does not go away but is pushed up to higher government levels.
Higher government levels need to raise taxes to pay for those services. Provision of services from outside the local community leads to services out of proportion to local needs resulting in poor delivery, excessive requirements, or unused services and equipment. As taxes at higher levels go up, the ability to tax at lower levels goes down. Inevitably, taxes at higher levels reach a point where voters rebel, the services provided at the higher level are cut, and the lower levels are unable to make up for those cuts.
We need politicians who follow a broad set of guidelines rather than a detailed list of party policies.
When parties have detailed policies we move toward groupthink rather than individual liberty, and groupthink is not good for the common good. The United States Senate is often called “the greatest deliberative body in the world.” This may be true in some committee hearings, but hardened opinions has led to more posturing and less deliberating in the general sessions. Hardened opinions are being demonstrated in state legislatures and city councils as well.
What are some policy examples that might follow from these principles?
One of the most divisive issues is abortion. One side wants no abortions anytime anywhere; the opposite side wants no government interference in abortions anytime anywhere. The only way to have no abortions is to keep all fertile females away from all fertile males. That would move far away from the first principle of individual liberty. Even if mixing of the sexes were permitted for married couples what happens when a pregnancy goes seriously awry? Do we sacrifice both the mother and the fetus to a principle of no abortions? The basic problem is unwanted pregnancies. To reduce abortions we need to reduce unwanted pregnancies. The proven ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies are to reduce abusive family situations, poverty, and ignorance. The real discussion should be how to implement policies to reduce these problems.
The right charges that the left is weak on defense and the left charges that the right is militaristic. But what is defense? Is it military might that is suitable against mass armies? Or is it international co-operation to resolve disputes? Is it high-tech weaponry that can take out selected targets? Or is it international police co-operation to root out terrorist cells before they can strike?
Freedom and democracy are words brandished like swords by those who claim them as their own goals. Is freedom only granted to those who agree with a government? Or is it the freedom to express unpopular opinions? Is democracy only granted to those who vote for a dominant party and begrudgingly given to a large-scale opposition? Or is democracy an open society in which people feel free to exercise their right “to petition the Government for redress of grievances”?
In summary, the Moderate Party should be the party that asks the hard questions. And by asking the right questions, might lead a consensus that will lead to a better country and to a better world.