After reading Darrell West’s reply and Geoffrey Kabaservice’s essay in favor of moderation, it strikes me that the case for moderation is quite persuasive indeed to moderates. But the “meta-political” case for moderation fails.
I actually share a fair bit of the typical, elite-moderate agenda: doing something multilateral about climate change, gradually reducing federal liabilities, free trade, gradually liberalizing immigration, and a truce on the culture war. But one does not have to adopt a comprehensively moderate ideology to come to these policy positions; I certainly don’t. Note as well that these views are in some cases quite far from those of the median American voter.
For conservatives, the current Republican Party has been working quite well. The ordinary course of things is for government to grow, and so merely stopping policy change has been enough to make the Trump Administration the most “conservative” of the last century. For conservatives, going back to the “bad old days” when people like George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole ran the party and cooperated in liberal policy change is no solution.
For progressives, appearing to be moderate makes sense as a tactical ploy. American voters do not generally like forthrightly left-wing candidates, but they also do not necessarily punish left-wing policy change, particularly when it is bipartisan. But donning a moderate façade is, by definition, not a sincere conversion to the moderate cause.
If one engages with policy debates and comes away with substantively moderate positions, one will want others to adopt those views too. But let’s not pretend that the truth is most likely in the middle, or that if only American politics were more moderate, they would work better for everyone.