Kazin: America Was Built on Extremism

William Lloyd Garrison.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Ida Wells Barnett.  W.E.B. DuBois. Students for a Democratic Society.  Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Barry Goldwater.  William F. Buckley. Phyllis Schafly They were all extremists.  The names above associated with the Left brought much needed reform to American society.  The names above associated with the Right “seeded” the conservative movement that “grew to unprecedented heights” in the 1980s and 1990s.  

Here is the conclusion of Georgetown’s Michael Kazin‘s article “A Kind Word for Ted Cruz.”

Of course, compromise is called for whenever political opponents agree on the essential merits of a
program, like Social Security and Medicare today, yet disagree about how to keep it solvent. But
while conservatives are careful not to advocate tearing down such pillars of the limited welfare state, many also describe Social Security as “a Ponzi scheme”—which reveals their true intentions. When dedicated partisans treat every issue as an opportunity for moral combat, effective governance becomes all but impossible.

But to vaunt moderation over extremism just signals one’s good intentions without communicating anything meaningful about the issues at stake. If you think Bill de Blasio will bankrupt New York or Ted Cruz has no sympathy for the uninsured, then make that argument and drive it home with facts. Insisting that our biggest problems would be solved if everyone crowded into the middle of the road is a lazy attempt to avoid real debate about what divides us. It’s an extreme waste of time.

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