When it comes to politics, people in the middle get nowhere and we know it.
We talk about reaching across the aisle like it’s a virtue. We act as though it is meaningful to be moderate, but when push comes to shove, we crave confrontation and we want a lot of it.
The ugly fights are the ones we have with our own. We let activists fight the good fight against our opponents on the fringe, while the rest shout from the middle — whine, squeal and moan — at people we once loved, but now want to disown.
We watch activists do the marching; we squirm when they get in people’s faces. We applaud opposition to Wall Street and honor responses to AIDS; yet we are ever ready to criticize extremists, especially if they appear to pollute our well.
We know without them our personal stories and political grievances might never see the light of day, so we let them shake babies and wake sleeping beasts. Our unspoken public policy encourages carnivores among us to feast, because we hate blood on our own hands, but we love to see it on the balled fists of others, and we crave conflict like bloodthirsty spectators in Rome’s Coliseum.
American Family Association radio host Bryan Fisher claims victory when the Mitt Romney team turns on one of its own because of sexual orientation. Liberals love Joe Biden when he says he has no problem with same-sex marriage, and they devour David Axelrod when he tweets the VEEP meant to say he and POTUS share the same “evolving” picture of marriage equality.
We applaud President Obama when he supports Hillary Clinton’s assertion that gay rights are human rights, while we suggest Obama’s leadership on gay issues is inadequate because he won’t step up the marriage fight in North Carolina.
It used to feel like the action was in the middle of the field, as though our political disagreements were on the line of scrimmage, one team against the other. But now it appears the most insidious clashes come from within, where we’ve developed an appetite to eat our own.
Activism is the DNA of our political theater; activism pulls us left, right and center. Activists force the characters we’ve elected to lead within narrow parameters, and we pounce the moment those who lead screw up a single line on stage.
Year after year, organizers act up and act out and when we let them do so because compromise is an ideal, but none of us really believe that compromise is a great idea. Compromise means losing something, and too many of us are willing to lose everything before we don’t get exactly we want.
Marty Linskey, a Harvard professor, reminded me this week that nothing really great happens when we negotiate win-win situations. Everyone leaves the table with what he or she wanted, and what he or she was willing to go without in the first place.
No one wants win-win football — or any other game — to end in a win-win. We can say we want moderation and compromise, but what we really want is for our most fervent activists to win the day, in any way they can, while we act appalled when their tactics turn our stomachs.
President Obama, elected as an unstoppable force for change, chose to do lunch with immovable objects and instead has become lunch in the process. President Carter played the same game and Christian evangelicals revolted into a Moral Majority intent on merging everything political and personal.
We’ve played the same political football game ever since, reenacting federal elections every other year like a never-ending Super Bowl because we must have super majorities to keep us from compromising.
Mobs stand on sidelines, in jerseys with banners, screaming as each person in a position of leadership fumbles. And yet, none wishes to acknowledge the only reason their players made it on the field is because those in play have had to become adept at gambling, in a very complicated game of survival, just for the chance to fight on the behalf of those they represent in the first place.
Tony Plakas is the CEO of Compass, the gay and lesbian community center of Lake Worth and the Palm Beaches.