George Graham

Exploring the Myth of the “Moderate” Politician

When CNN showed Lou Dobbs the door recently, CNN President Jon Klein told him the all-news network wanted to pursue a more “middle-of-the-road” path. At least that’s what Dobbs told Jon Stewart in an interview on the Comedy Channel the other night. Stewart, naturally, had some fun with the concept. The audience had a good laugh, as did Stewart and Dobbs.

middleBut the idea that there is a “middle of the road” is no laughing matter. Whose road? I lived in Canada for many years and I can tell you the political “road” in Canada is quite a distance to the “left” of the “road” in America. As far as I can determine, there is no political party in Canada that is to the “right” of any party in America – not even Bernie Sanders’ party, whatever it may be.

That is if my understanding of “left” and “right” is accurate. I find it hard to tell these days. Am I with the “extreme left” when I advocate the ouster of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner? Or the “extreme right”? According to the media, people of both persuasions are calling for his resignation. Naturally, in my view, I am “middle of the road.” And in your view you probably are, too.

I wonder at the innocence of those who think journalism can be “objective.” The first adjective you use expresses a bias of one kind or another. Is the person you’re writing about a “slender young woman”? Or a “thin girl”? To me, those two descriptions conjure up different images although – technically – they mean the same. And when was the last time you read anything devoid of adjectives?

The adjectives generally accepted in the political press leave me especially bewildered. The headline in the local newspaper this morning proclaimed that “moderate” Democrats hold the key to the health care debate in the Senate. Moderate. That’s the adjective the press uses to describe politicians like Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and – Heaven help us – Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

joeattilaIf Lieberman (photo far right) is a moderate, Attila the Hun (picture at right) was a lefty. The former Democrat turned McCain fellow-traveler has extreme positions on a number of things, including the Iran situation. I would describe him as a Zionist but I don’t know for sure that he belongs to a Zionist organization. I just know that he seems always willing to protect Israel, even at America’s expense.

The press uses the word “moderate” in the most surprising contexts. Bart Stupak, the religious zealot who teamed with Republican Joe Pitts to introduce the anti-choice amendment to the House health care bill, is supposed to be “a moderate Democrat.” What’s “moderate” about the Stupak-Pitts amendment?

And what about the politicians who are digging in their heels to protect the interests of health care industry contributors to their campaigns? Are they “moderate”  as in moderately corrupt?

I suppose there are “moderate” Republicans, as the press insists, but I can’t think of any in the current political arena. Nelson Rockefeller, if my memory can be trusted, was “moderate.” But who in today’s Republican Party leadership would you compare with Rockefeller?

Today, that Arizona looney who wanted to drop an atom bomb on the North Vietnamese – Barry Goldwater – would probably be a “moderate” Republican – or even a “moderate” Democrat, because (like Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter) he might be too “middle-of-the-road” for the modern Republican Party.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for