In defense of the political moderate

By Jacob Wheeler
Sun editor

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
— William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

When Americans go to the voting booths on Tuesday, they’ll see two parties listed at the top of their ballots — the Democrats and Republicans. In reality, however, there are three parties actively running in these midterm elections: Democratic incumbents, Republican moderates and Republican Tea Party extremists who would have us storm the kitchen, fire the chefs, dump out the giant vat of slow-cooking soup, and start all over again. The Tea Party is the newest on the political stage, having gained support from a population worried about the economic crisis and painfully high unemployment, confused about health care reform and this country’s changing role in the world, and perhaps wary of a President different in appearance and rhetoric from his 43 predecessors in the White House.

Through that vacuum, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party has ridden the coattails of such national politicians as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Senatorial candidates Christine O’Donnell (Delaware), Marco Rubio (Florida) and Sharron Angle (Nevada) and Congress-people John Boehner (Ohio) and Michele Bachmann (Minnesota). Their message, it seems, is one of conservative Christian doctrine, revisionist and literal interpretation of the Constitution, and elimination of government. They believe that the U.S. government under President Obama and the Democrats has grown too large and hurts, rather than helps, its citizens.

They oppose the health care reform legislation, the Troubled Asset Relief Program and bank bailout, the auto industry bailout, and student loan legislation — even though experts on both sides of the political aisle have stated that the bank and auto bailouts effectively saved those important industries and prevented a second Great Depression. Today, banks have re-paid nearly all the money they borrowed, and automakers in Detroit are not just alive, but performing better than they have in years.

Tea Party rhetoric has been to tear down government — that government is never the solution, and always the problem. That philosophy ignores, or discredits such great government investments over the years as the Louisiana Purchase, the Farm Bill, Lend Lease and America’s effort to win the Second World War, the building of our interstate highway system, the Hoover Dam project, NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the military program that birthed the Internet, the National Institutes of Health, and yes, government intervention to save industries that provide millions of jobs.

In our mid-September edition, former Republican Governor Bill Milliken told the Glen Arbor Sun that he opposes the Tea Party’s anti-government rhetoric. “I believe government serves an important and necessary purpose, and can be a positive influence in the lives of men and women, not only in Michigan, but across the country,” said Milliken, who now lives in Traverse City. “Unlike the kind of approach that’s being used by the Tea Party people and others, who feel that we have too much government, I don’t feel that way. I feel that a party like the Republican Party can be a moderate, progressive influential influence in the lives of people.”

Thankfully, Michigan largely appears to have bucked the trend of Tea Party-rage this election season. The Wolverine state’s candidate for governor, and near certain victor in the race, is Rick Snyder, a moderate from Ann Arbor with no traditional conservative allegiances. Milliken has endorsed Snyder over Democrat, and current Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. After all, this is a state where voters have reached across the aisle over the years to elect, and re-elect moderates like Milliken, Senator Carl Levin and departing Congressman Bart Stupak.

Here in Leelanau County, too, we can be proud that the newspaper of record, the Leelanau Enterprise — though an admittedly conservative publication at times — has endorsed moderates capable of working across the aisle, and shunned Tea Party-leaning extremists. Case in point: as it did in 2008, the Enterprise this week endorsed Democrat Dan Scripps for the 101st State House seat. Scripps’ opponent, once again, is Ray Franz, an Onekema grocery store owner who failed to learn from his blunder two years ago when his campaign sent out anti-Scripps mailers using homophobic language. This time, Franz’s campaign produced literature — and irritated citizens with countless robo-calls — falsely claiming that Scripps voted for Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment (stimulus) Act. It take doesn’t take a high school government student to know that state representatives don’t vote on national legislation.

Franz’s strategy, like last time, is to confuse and scare voters. But it doesn’t appear that northern Michiganders will take the bait. We support moderates, and not manipulative extremists.