Whatever happened to the word “moderate?” You hardly here it these days. If you’re talking about someone’s politics, “so-and-so is on the right” or “so-and-so is on the left.” But no moderate. If you’re talking media, there’s “right” and “left” and “conservative” and “liberal.” But no moderate. If it’s congress, members are referred to as “right” and “left” but too seldom “moderate.” The word has almost disappeared.

My Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines moderate as: “avoiding extremes; observing reasonable limits; avoiding extreme political or social matters or behavior; reasonable; one who favors a moderate course.” Still sounds good to me.

I have friends on the right. And friends on the left. Over the years of my journalistic career, some of each have accused me of being a fellow traveler with the other. Right or left. And people I’ve never heard of who respond to these opinion pieces often start out by labeling me one or the other. Right or left. After so many years of this, I’ve learned to immediately discard whatever the response if it starts out “You are obviously a right winger – or left winger……” Or “nut.” Or “crazy.” Or worse.

For reasons I don’t fathom, we seem to have to label everyone. Assign them a space on some imaginary line that runs from right to left, left to right or some other extreme. Or put them in a box with a label on it. We do it with movie stars. George Clooney is obviously on the left while Sylvester Stallone is a “rightie.” We do it with musicians, rock stars, economists, scientists, the homeless and – at times – God. I’ve heard Jesus described both right and left. We do it with churches. Presbyterians, of course, are “always” left – Baptists and fundamentalists are “always” to the right. Whether true or not.

Political candidates often dodge the word “progressive.” That same dictionary defines it as “making use of – or interested in – new ideas, encouragement of self-expression, moving forward or onward.” Sounds not only reasonable to me but highly desirable. Especially in a government.

At our house, we’re registered Independents in political fact. Deferring again to Mr. Webster: “not affiliated with a larger controlling unit (read ‘political party’); not looking to others for one’s opinions; showing a desire for freedom.” What’s wrong with that?

But, you know, in today’s “everybody-must-have-a-label” society, I’ve been called “cowardly” for not being a member of either “major” party. I’ve been told I have no political voice in our democracy. I’ve even been called “un-American.”

These three words – moderate, progressive, independent – have either disappeared from most of our nation’s political discourse or have been redefined in some twisted ways to make them seem distasteful and repugnant. Our national camp is, for so many people, defined narrowly as “right,” “left,” “conservative,” or “liberal.” Anything else is not acceptable.

In the words of Col. Henry Potter: “Road Apples!!!”

It’s been my lifelong experience that the most noise, the most distortion, the most divisiveness come from the – wait for it – right and left. The majority of us – the moderates or independents in the middle – the great politically unwashed or unaligned – seem to endure as we make political decisions guiding the country. Doing so surrounded by the extremist clamor that defines two loud minorities. The two major political parties.

Yes, as a nation, we veer a little to one side or the other now and then. That’s a good thing. Because the middle – where most of us live – is wide enough and flexible enough – and smart enough – to accommodate the noisemakers and name callers while staying on course.

Even now, with tough economic conditions, high unemployment and wars, we “keep on keepin’ on.” Swings too far from the center line are largely avoided and those that occur are always – always – corrected sooner or later. May take an election or two. But, despite the rancor and occasional outright nastiness of the labelers, the moderate, progressive, independent center is where the most important decisions are made. The ones that endure.

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