The Richmond Register

October 28, 2012

Can moderates be passionate?

By Bill Robinson
Register Editor

RICHMOND — After my column of two weeks ago chided political candidates for not having, or at least not disclosing, specifics of their ideas for solving problems, I heard from two office holders who told me the candidate who offers the most specifics usually loses.

If that’s true, it’s a sad commentary on us, the voters.

However, I still believe some candidates won’t give us specifics because they don’t have any.

In partisan legislative and congressional races, voters can simply vote for the party, rather than an individual candidate, with the expectation that a candidate will generally follow their party leaders. That may be the most we can expect, but I’m naïve enough to expect more.

The same goes for negative campaigning. Too many candidates believe the campaign that most demonizes its opponent wins, even if many voters find that approach sickening. How many times this political season have you heard someone say they wish the election were over so they won’t be bombarded with any more negative political advertising?

I’ve watched several races at the local level over the years that were won by candidates who offered specifics in their platforms and conducted positive campaigns. To be fair, however, that may be easier to do at the local rather than the state or national level.

As I’ve gotten older, the two major parties have sharpened their differences, but I’m still too practical and independent-minded to think along party lines. And, I think we’d be better off if political leaders would be more pragmatic and less ideological, more willing to compromise for a partial victory instead of insisting on all or nothing.

The problem with political moderates is their moderation. To speak of passionate moderation is almost a contradiction in terms. Those who are passionate or vociferous in their beliefs tend to be more successful than those who are more tepid. They seem to fight harder and more relentlessly.

After the French Revolution, most Frenchmen would have been content with a constitutional monarchy based on the British model. After their revolution, most Russians would have preferred a parliamentary democracy based on the European model. In both cases, however, fanatics who were willing to kill or be killed took control with disastrous results for both countries. The French ended up with Napoleon, nearly two decades of war and then defeat. The Russians ended up with Lenin, Stalin and 70 years of repression and privation.

Moderates of the world unite. Let us fight passionately for common sense and decency.

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When it comes to fighting for common sense and decency, I was gratified this past week by the way Richmond City Attorney Garrett Fowles spoke up for freedom of religion before the planning commission.

At issue was whether the planning commission had acted improperly when it allowed construction of a Muslim house of worship in a commercial zone in which churches are permitted.

Given their cultural context, authors of the zoning ordinance used the term “church” to express their intent to allow houses of worship in areas zoned for highway business. None of them, I’m confident, used “church” because they wanted to exclude non-Christian worship centers.

If the issue is taken to court, it will be dismissed almost instantly by any judge true to his or her oath to defend the U.S. Constitution.

Another equally specious argument was made, that a building open only occasionally did not meet the definition of a highway business open to serve the traveling public. Only the largest of churches maintain regular office hours. Most are open only a few times each week. Would anyone have sought to have a Christian church excluded from a highway business zone because it wasn’t always open?

Madison County has a relatively small Muslim population. Most Muslims here are students at either Eastern Kentucky University or Berea College. A few others are respected physicians or college professors.

I’m embarrassed for them and for our community that such an un-American argument was made before a government body, but I’m glad it was so quickly rebuffed.

I know that some predominantly Muslim countries don’t practice religious toleration, and people of other faiths may be persecuted in some. But, we should base our conduct and attitudes on the highest ideals of American tradition as expressed in our Bill of Rights.