Jonah Goldberg Explains The Problem With Moderates

Later today, I’ll be interviewing Jonah Goldberg on his new book, The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas. That interview will be going up later this week on RWN and just to give you a little preview, here’s Jonah Goldberg doing an absolutely amazing job of breaking down the unpleasant truth about moderates.

There’s a certain Goldilocks bias to discussions of politics: If Papa Bear’s porridge is too hot and Mama Bear’s is too cold, then Baby Bear’s is always just right. It must work the same way in politics, right? Centrists, moderates, middle-of-the-roaders, independents: They all suffer from variants of this confusion. The “extreme” Republicans argue ten. The “extreme” Democrats argue for zero. Therefore, the smart, sensible, reasonable position must be five.

Well, the Wahhabis want to kill the gays and Jews. The Sufis don’t want to kill any gays or Jews. So, the moderate, sensible position must be to kill just the gays, but not the Jews. Or maybe the other way around? Or half of all the gays and Jews? Or maybe all the gay Jews? Or maybe we can have a very complicated compromise among the lines of last year’s debt-ceiling negotiations, where a small percentage of Jews are killed now and we kill a larger number of gays in the out years?

The point is that sometimes the extreme is 100 percent correct while the centrist position is 100 percent wrong. But there’s something about being not as wrong as one of the other extremes that some people find so enticing and seductive. I just don’t get it.

If I say we need one hundred feet of bridge to cross a one hundred foot chasm, that makes me an extremist. Somebody else says we don’t need to build a bridge at all because we don’t need to cross the chasm in the first place. That makes him an extremist. The third guy is the centrist because he insists that we compromise by building a fifty-foot bridge that ends in the middle of thin air? As an extremist I’ll tell you that the other extremist has a much better grasp on reality than the centrist does. The extremists have a serious disagreement about what to do. The independent who splits the difference has no idea what to do and doesn’t want to figure it out.

And yet we hear constantly how independents who borrow a little from this side and borrow a little from that side are somehow more politically sophisticated and mature than straight-line thinkers of the left and right. But here’s the thing: The straight line thinkers tend to think in a straight line not because they’re hidebound and close-minded and clinging to an ideological agenda. They tend to think in a reasonably straight line because they’ve worked out a reasonably consistent way of seeing the world. The independents and moderates who just grab stuff from this shelf, then from that shelf, like a panicked survivor of the dawn of the dead grabbing what he or she can from the supermarket before the zombies spot her, do not value consistency at all.

…After an eighteen-month campaign, all of the informed, conscious and ideologically consistent voters have already made up their minds. All that’s left are the undecided centrists, who actually think they have the more sophisticated and serious position; their indecision comes, actually, by virtue of the fact they’ve either not paid much attention until way too late in the game, or more simply, they’re a**holes who think they must be at the center of the universe.

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