I’ve considered myself a political moderate ever since I voted in my first election in November 1976.
Now, I acknowledge that I usually vote for one party’s candidates because that party’s perspectives and policies for the most part align better with mine than those of the other party.
But I’ve always wanted the elected representatives of both parties to put the good of the nation (or the state, county or city) ahead of a particular political agenda.
I’d like them to negotiate and to meet in the middle in order to do all they can do to help us be all we can be.
I don’t think bipartisanship and compromise are “cuss” words – I’ll say them right out loud, even at church.
One thing I regret about the current state of our politics is that the middle has pretty much disappeared.
And as that has happened, those of us who have long sought the middle ground have been forced toward the extremes.
Picture a ring in which a boxing match is about to begin. After giving instructions, the referee says to the combatants, “Go to your corners and come out fighting.”
We have our corners. We have our political, philosophical, religious and social corners.
It can be tough to come out of them and engage in the struggle, but that’s what we need to do. That’s what our political leaders need to do.
Instead, we go to our corners and stay there. We shout at each other across the ring, but we don’t engage. That’s easier, but it’s not productive.
I realize the flaws in my analogy.
One flaw arises from the fact that the point in a boxing match is for somebody to win and somebody to lose.
But every once in a while, a match ends in a draw, even though one of the fighters is in worse shape than the other.
I think the goal for our representatives should be to get in there and slug it out to a draw. One side gets more of what they want than the other, but at least progress will have been made.
Another flaw in my analogy is that we don’t have two clear-cut sides (Republican vs. Democrat; liberal vs. conservative); there are many sub-groups.
A better analogy for our situation might be a wrestling ring in which a 30-person battle royal is about to take place.
Still, no matter how many people, positions and perspectives there are, if all we do is stand in our respective corners and shout at each other, we end up – well, pretty much where we are. And we really need to move past there.
The poet Robert Frost once said, “A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.” I admit to having been guilty of that at times.
I also admit to being willing to listen to almost anybody. I try to take people’s positions seriously and I want them to take mine the same way. But I do have my convictions.
And I’ll admit that there are some folks whose positions are as far from being worthy of consideration as Hog Mountain is from the Matterhorn.
So far as I’m concerned, racists, sexists and xenophobes have nothing constructive to contribute to any civil discussion; they lack the basic humanity that is, to my way of thinking, the starting point for any helpful approach to the issues at hand.
Still, I think that our goal should be to make as much progress as we can.
I understand that some folks will say that the issues are too important to compromise on. I’d like to be a purist too. But reality won’t allow for it.
We live in a diverse nation that is going to become much more diverse. Our representatives need to put people ahead of positions and do all they can to help us move forward.
Sometimes that means making compromises. It means searching for the middle. It means taking small steps.
The last presidential election pushed us farther into our corners than we’ve been at any time in my lifetime.
During that election, some of my acquaintances (and even a couple of my friends) thought I went too far in resisting the eventual winner’s campaign. I felt that I had no choice.
And now I’m not sure that some dangerous policies can be resisted from any position but the extreme opposite one.
Long term, though, we’d better find a way to resurrect the middle. I’m going to hold onto hope that we can.
Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, On the Jericho Road, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ruffinmichael.