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| Guest Columnist | Harry M. Covert | Hayden Duke | Jason Miller | Ken Kellar | Patricia A. Kelly | Edward Lulie III | Cindy A. Rose | Richard B. Weldon Jr. | Brooke Winn |


Advertise on the Tentacle

November 14, 2005

The Disappearing Moderates

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

   – Opposition Opposed to radical or extreme views or measures, especially in politics or religion.
   – Being within reasonable limits; not excessive or extreme.

Politics, by its very nature, discourages moderation. When political races are viewed as creating winners and losers, message crafters use language that draws clear distinctions and allows for simple, unequivocal separations in thought and positions.

This formula applies to national, state, and local political races. In fact, the use of divisive rhetoric and overly simple distinctions becomes more pronounced the higher the office being sought.

The political industry generates billions of dollars in every four-year presidential election cycle. It starts at the “grass roots” level, where special interest groups and political parties raise money from people like you and I.

It ends in the bank accounts of multi-billion dollar media giants and those same special interest groups that are defining the modern political landscape.

The unfortunate fact is that the issues these groups chose to portray fall into two categories:

1) Either the most visceral, anguishing, and emotional issues facing America, or
2) Personal scandals and ugly attacks unrelated to the candidates ability to govern

Every election cycle features a tired repetition of this undeniable truth. It used to be the exclusive domain of national politics, but it has now bled down to every level of political service.

Our national thirst for a steady diet of news that falls into our particular view of the world fuels a massive media war for public opinion. CNN and the major broadcast networks tilt their coverage towards a liberal political view. MSNBC falls a little more center-left, and FOX News firmly holds down a more conservative demographic.

Talk radio is still the predominant home of the more conservative constituency. Recent forays into this realm by liberals show mixed results.

A recent headline in Baltimore’s Sun screamed, “Newspaper sales continue to drop.” What a shocker! The advent of 24-hour, worldwide televised news, the news channels and blogosphere on the Internet, and talk radio (both terrestrial and satellite versions) spell the eventual end of the rolled up, rubber-banded daily paper tossed casually in the front hedgerow.

Instead of ink-stained fingers, readers in search of political news and gossip are now suffering from carpel tunnel syndrome.

If only the modern media outlets would offer readers and viewers thoughtful commentary minus the personally destructive attacks. If only the special interests would focus on the technical issues they feel so strongly about without stooping to the rhetorical gutter. Finally, if only the aspirants and incumbents in political office would spend more intellectual energy on defining what they believe versus attacking the other person for their beliefs.

There were two governor’s races under contest last week in America. In our neighboring state of Virginia, the Kilgore/Kaine race filled the papers and television with garbage and idiotic statements from both sides.

In New Jersey, the Forrester/Corzine race featured two multi-millionaires who are perfectly capable – and apparently comfortable – to spend their personal fortunes lying and misrepresenting one another’s records and policy positions.

Locally, we’re not exempt, either. The City of Frederick Democratic Party Primary was not necessarily a shining example of quality campaigning, and probably led, at least in part, to the outcome of both the primary and the general election. There’ll be more on the city’s General Election outcome later.

The Maryland General Assembly is embarking on the final session of the current four-year term. The issues that will dominate the landscape sound depressingly familiar. Slot machines, taxes, affordable healthcare, gun control, minimum wage, abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, and maintaining a job-creating business climate are all back on the table.

These are complex issues, with strong opinions on both sides. Lobbyists make millions arguing all sides and all opinions.

Into the mix we throw a hotly contested gubernatorial primary and general election, the chance for an accelerated primary to benefit the Democratic Party, and a very interesting U.S. senatorial campaign, including a Democrat primary that no one saw coming.

The initial reaction of state Democrats had Rep. Ben Cardin (D., 3rd) a clear and comfortable leader in the primary over former Congressman and NAACP Executive Director Kwiesi Mfume. A poll released last week showed the race a virtual dead heat, breathing new life into Mr. Mfume’s efforts.

All of this bodes well for Lt. Gov. Michael Steele’s bid for Senator Paul Sarbanes’ seat. He can count on a bump if the Cardin/Mfume race draws in a racial component, which it will likely do.

I had a recent political epiphany. I was part of a panel discussion on issues affecting rural areas in Maryland. Sharing the stage were Del. Norman Conway (D., Lower Shore and chairman of the Appropriations Committee.), Del. John Wood (D., Southern MD), Del. Paige Elmore (R., Eastern Shore), Del. Leroy Myers (R., Washington/Allegany), and Del. Bob McKee (R., Washington County).

The audience consisted of rural economic development, agricultural, and healthcare experts and advocates. During the panel discussion, the legislators named above sounded a message of unanimity on almost every issue affecting our rural communities.

As I sat there listening to my colleagues, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone up there was a political moderate, partisan on many big issues but easily capable of seeing beyond ideology when rural Maryland needs their help. This same group has co-sponsored extending broadband access to rural areas, major enhancements in rural job creation funding, and healthcare funding for rural health facilities.

Unfortunately, these voices of moderation are becoming increasingly rare in Annapolis and Washington. The stakes associated with the upcoming state races for governor, state Senate, and House of Delegates indicates that it will be even more difficult for moderate legislators to work across ideological lines to solve problems in the coming session.

State legislators, who focus more on partisan ideology than meaningful legislative outcomes, will have trouble explaining to their constituents what good they’ve done for them.

In previous years, an election cycle for an incumbent state elected official runs pretty much on autopilot. This year, thanks largely to the campaigns of Ron Young and Mayor-elect Jeff Holtzinger, the bar has been raised.

Voters will expect issue-oriented campaigns, not denigrating personal attacks. Voters will be listening for ideas from incumbents and challengers that actually improve their quality of life.

Finally, and most importantly, voters will measure what we say against what we do, thanks to Mayor Ron and Mayor-elect Jeff.

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