Politics & Other Mistakes: Stuck in the middle with you

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The trouble with political moderates is all that moderation.

By definition, moderates are flexible, accommodating, compromising, obliging, acquiescing, pliable, conceding – whew, this list just gets worse and worse the more it goes on.

No wonder nobody can stand a moderate for very long. Sooner or later, they’re going to vote in a way you won’t like.

Which brings us to Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who has described herself as a “fanatical moderate.” That sounds like a species of poisonous invertebrate, one with lots of spines on the outside, but none on the inside.

Perhaps a better term for Collins’ approach to lawmaking would be “deceptive practicality.” She nearly always does what makes the most sense for her, while presenting her actions as making the most sense for whatever constituent group she’s attempting to appease.

Appease. Good word. Should have included that one in that list up there in the second paragraph.

Anyway, back to Collins. A mere few months ago, she was much beloved by liberals, because she supplied a crucial vote to prevent the GOP from dismantling Obamacare.

“I have been really impressed with Sen. Collins’ willingness to look at the data and really understand what the impacts would be for the country and Maine residents,” Erika Ziller, a health policy analyst at the University of Southern Maine, told the Portland Press Herald in September.

More love from the left came when Collins took public stands against the Trump administration’s positions on climate change, when she supported allowing transgender people to serve in the military, and when she called on Alabama weirdo Roy Moore to quit his U.S. Senate race.

But at the same time, Collins was voting to confirm a Trump judicial nominee the American Bar Association found unqualified because of his prejudicial comments about social issues. She supported freeing big banks and investment firms from regulations that allowed consumers to sue them for fraud and other misconduct. And she backed passage of the Republican tax reform bill, which even its supporters admit greatly favors the wealthy.

What say the liberals about that?

Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen, put it this way in a newspaper op-ed: “No matter how often she has criticized the president’s offensive behavior, Collins is fully on board with Pence and Trump’s Wall Street agenda.”

Meanwhile, the senator was being excoriated by business groups and insurance companies for her votes to preserve the Affordable Care Act, while being acclaimed by some of the same business groups and financial institutions for handing them exemptions from lawsuits and huge tax cuts.

Such is life in the mushy middle.

Mushy. Good word. Wish I’d thought of it when I was writing that list in the second paragraph.

The reality is that Collins is not behaving any differently than she ever has during her lengthy career in Washington. She has always skewed right of center on money matters and left of the line on social issues and the environment. She hasn’t changed. It’s just that the perception of her actions has been altered by the current wave of hyper-partisanship.

Collins’ consistent straddling of the border between liberals and conservatives (maybe they need to build a wall) has never been acceptable to the extremes at either end of the ideological spectrum. Now, that distaste for her moderation has spread to less partisan types, who once upon a time would have been willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

It matters not to the right wing that Collins has backed the Trump agenda more than 80 percent of the time. The left wing doesn’t care that she has stood firm on abortion, LGBQT rights, the cost of medical care, and protecting the air and water. In neither case is that good enough. To misquote Barry Goldwater, moderation in the pursuit of their agendas is no virtue.

Collins’ approach to governing may no longer be politically sustainable. If she decides to seek another term in 2020 (no sure thing), she’ll almost certainly face arch-conservative opposition in the GOP primary and, if she survives that, attacks from ultra-liberals in the general election. Her campaign strategy of answering that bombardment with a moderate’s reliance on temperance and self-restraint is sadly out of step with modern times.

Temperance. Self-restraint. Good words. I probably should have included them in that list in the second paragraph.

Other suggestions for moderate descriptors may be emailed to aldiamon@herniahill.net. No profanity, please.