November 16, 2009
The Principle of the Excluded ModerateBy Larrey Anderson
One of the three basic rules of Aristotelian logic is called the "principle of the excluded middle." In, Latin the rule is called "tertium non datur," which roughly translates into English as "no third option"[i]. This law teaches us something important about the notion of a "moderate" politician. When it comes to the cold, hard reality of voting up or down on any particular piece of legislation, there is no third option[ii]. The politician must vote yea or nay...thus the title for this article.
The logical expression of the principle of the excluded middle, translated into ordinary English, is "either S or not S" -- for our purposes, in political terms, voting "either yea or nay." (What the "S" stands for will be crucial to our discussion later on.) Unfortunately, for those of us on the right, the consequences of "the principle of the excluded moderate" mean something entirely different for Republicans (and conservatives) from what it means for Democrats (and liberals).
Let's start with the basics. According to RNC Chairman Michael Steele, the Republican Party stands for less government and less government spending. But for some reason (his "we failed to lead" is an excuse, not a reason), the party has lost its way:
The Democratic Party has a different point of view. Democrats believe that the federal government not only should, but must expand, intervene, and increase spending to "save" America. As President Obama declared soon after taking office:
These two positions are diametrically opposed. The leader of the Republican Party blames our current crisis on too much spending and intervention by the central government, while the leader of the Democratic Party says the only solution for America is for the state to spend and intercede more.
There is a tension in the political process between these two points of view. Here is what it looks like on a simple graph:
The limitation of this graph is that this political tension takes place over time. So if we take this tension (the arrow) and show it over time in the real world of politics it looks like this:
The x-axis shows time (for the politician, time in office). The y-axis shows the number of votes cast. Obviously, the longer an elected official stays in office, the more votes he or she will have cast.
These votes are overwhelmingly either for or against more government spending and control. (To my knowledge, no major federal program has been repealed in over fifty years.) A "yea" vote rarely if ever means voting to limit the federal government [iii]. Almost all final votes made in the house and the senate are votes to increase the size and scope of the federal government [iv].
Few politicians running for office promise to vote "nay" on every issue. Even fewer keep that promise. (Less than half a dozen current congressmen have consistently voted "no" on every major bill in their careers. No current senators have done so.)
There are deals to be cut and special interests to please. For example, in my state of Idaho, our "conservative" delegation is constantly making deals to please the agricultural, timber, and mining industries. (Not complaining -- I am explaining. That is how the system works. You vote for my bill and I will vote for yours.)
While the tension between the political parties (see Graph 1) is the issue of more or less government, the political pressure on each member is to stay in office. In order to stay in office, so most politicians believe, the special interests at home must be served. This means compromising, and at least in some instances, voting for more state spending.
Over time we see the following happen ("S" stands for state -- voting for more state control or funding):
Once again, the x-axis represents time. Here, however, the y-axis represents the possibility that the officeholder will vote for the expansion of the state. The longer the time a politician spends in office, the more likely and (more importantly) more often he or she will vote for "S" [v].
Once a Republican official moves too far to the left, he or she either abandons the party (e.g., Arlen Specter and Dede Scozzafava) or deeply entrench him- or herself in the special interests of the state or district in order to stay in office (e.g., Olympia Snowe and Anh "Jospeh" Cao) [vi].
It stands to reason that politicians on the right will become more moderate over time. Politicians on the left will move from "moderate" to "progressive" over time. This basic political truth represents a real challenge to conservatives -- and a huge advantage for liberals.
Here is a real-life example. In 1994, the Republican Party won control of the House of Representatives for the first time in fifty years. They did so by presenting a united voice and offering a written (and very conservative) "Contract with America."
Republican leadership was able to keep its newly elected majority in line for almost four years. During that period, the federal government had its first balanced budget in decades. But then the party started to lose control of its members, and during the next six years, it was back to politics as usual.
The practical outcome of the principle of the excluded moderate is that conservatives need to spend far more time worrying about the elected officials who represent them. (Or, if the conservative lives in a liberal stronghold, support conservatives in races in which the conservative candidate has a real chance of winning.)
Like it or not, conservatism must come face-to-face with the fact that conservative government entails constant commitment to the cause of individual liberty. It requires rigorous and unrelenting pressure on elected officials. And most important, it requires consistent turnover of candidates who were elected running on conservative principles but who have strayed from their promises.
Your congressman may have kissed your baby or found your lost social security check, but odds are that if he has been in office for more than a decade...he is no longer a conservative. It is up to us to enforce the principle of the excluded moderate.
Larrey Anderson is a writer, a philosopher, and submissions editor for American Thinker. His award-winning novel is The Order of the Beloved. His latest book is the memoir, Underground: Life and Survival in the Russian Black Market.
[i] Aristotle mentions the law in both Περὶ Ἑρμηνείας (On Interpretation) and in Book III (Beta) of τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά. (Metaphysics).
[ii] In some instances, the public officeholder can vote "present" -- as Obama did many times as a state senator from Illinois -- or the elected official can skip the vote. Obviously, in such instances the person is not doing the job he was elected to do. Not voting (or voting "present") is not moderation -- it is laziness, cowardice, disingenuousness, or some combination of the three.
[iii] In certain procedural votes, "yea" can mean "nay," but I am not interested in parliamentary subtleties in this article.
[v] Conservatives could use this graph as a good argument for term limits, but the discussion of term limits is not the point of this piece. I want to show what happens to "moderates" in the system.