As the saying goes, there's a time and place for everything. Like, being a political moderate. Or, a political extremist. It doesn't make sense to always embrace one or the other.
Sure, it sounds good to hear politicians say, "I want to work with those on the other side of the aisle."
But sometimes those on the other end of the political spectrum aren't interested in compromise and moderation. Barack Obama found this out when Republicans in Congress opposed almost everything he put forward.
For example, a lot of time was wasted trying to get the GOP on board with the Affordable Care Act when all Republicans wanted to do was scuttle it.
Frequently I hear people claim that local politics is different.
They believe that conservative and progressive elected officials here in Salem can join hands and agree on policies that would be better than what those on the political right and left could come up with on their own. Well, maybe. I'm skeptical about this, though.
One reason is that I'm dubious our local Republicans and Democrats are markedly different from those inhabiting the halls of Congress or the corridors of the Oregon legislature.
Here in Salem the Mayor and city councilors are nominally non-partisan, lacking a "D" or "R" after their name.
But almost always it's obvious where their political leaning lies. And it's well known that over the past few decades the Republican Party has veered rightward to a much greater degree than the Democratic Party has tilted leftward.
The following graphics show the average ideology of the Republican and Democratic parties in Congress since World War II. In recent years, the Republican party has become far more conservative than the Democratic party has become liberal.
So meeting in the middle no longer results in genuine moderation, given that Republican positions have steadily become more extreme than Democratic positions.
Another reason I'm wary of moderation, whether on the national, state, or local level, is that some issues cry out for urgent, all hands on deck, full bore action.
Climate change and income inequality are two issues that demand thoughtful extremism. Our planet isn't going to remain habitable for humans without drastic immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Finding a middle ground on global warming means losing a fight that has to be won.
The City of Salem is embarking on a Climate Action Plan aimed at reducing our city's carbon pollution. That's great. However, not so great has been the resistance by Steve Powers, the City Manager, to doing what needs to be done in this area.
Often the inertia of City staff to implementing policy goals established by the City Council is irksome rather than dangerous. In the case of a Climate Action Plan, though, nothing short of 100% dedication to markedly lowering Salem's greenhouse gas emissions is acceptable.
This won't happen by tinkering around the edges of current policies. Urban sprawl, incessant road building, and excessive reliance on gas-powered vehicles have played a big role in getting Salem, Oregon, and the United States into the climate change mess we're in now.
Reversing our way out of that catastrophe, whose effects are becoming increasingly evident, won't happen by splitting the difference between the views of global warming realists and deniers. The deniers are on the wrong side of science and of humanity, whether they sit in Congress or the Salem City Council chambers.
Income inequality isn't as obvious a local issue. Here too, though, there are signs that City officials aren't taking the widening divide between the 1% and 99% (or 10% and 90%) as seriously as they should be.
A payroll tax on employees and an operating fee paid via utility bills are in the works to deal with City of Salem budget deficits.
Both of these revenue streams would hit ordinary people more than the wealthy in Salem. For example, reportedly a single family home would pay an $8 a month operating fee, while Salem Hospital (along with other commercial properties) would pay $38.56 a month.
This seems decidedly unbalanced. No doubt the Chamber of Commerce is pleased with these proposals, but it's hard to see how they reduce income inequality in Salem, which surely is increasing here as rapidly as it is elsewhere in our country.
I could be wrong -- an ever-present possibility -- but I sense that people in Salem, as elsewhere in the United States, are hungry for Big Ideas that improve the lives of ordinary people.
Modern Republicans, by and large, are silent in this area. Their focus is on further improving the lives of the rich and powerful. This is why many of the Democratic presidential candidates are garnering so much attention for their Big Ideas in the areas of the environment, health care, education, and so on.
I'm hoping that Salem will be fertile ground for our own Big Ideas, some of which are seedlings in the minds of our six progressive city councilors. Hopefully those ideas will grow into fertile reality. If they do, likely a look back will reveal that it wasn't moderation that brought them into being, but a passionate extremism.
On a lighter note...