Americans are Bell Curve people. We live happily along that 80 percent bulge in the middle of things, and we’re open to learning new things from the strident fan-folks farther down the curve and out to its edges.
For a while. Not forever. Just about the time fan-folks think the rest of us have become their true believers, we say “that’s far enough; time for a deep breath.”
The middle needs fan-folks to get us moving, to introduce us to new ideas and concepts, to keep us from staying too long in one place. We need those extreme points of view to make us sit up and take notice.
Whether it’s the whacked-out Carrie Nation with her anti-alcohol, women’s and families’ rights messages, or the deranged John Brown with his anti-slavery screeds, the far left and far right of the Bell Curve are the ones who make things change.
Those revered “founding fathers” were terrorists bent on overthrowing the legitimate government. The idea that society (read that government) ought to take care of children and old people came from the fringes, resulting in the now-sacrosanct Social Security and Medicare entitlements.
So, we need the Tea Party, far-right Republicans, flaming liberal Democrats and, yes, the Jello-like Occupy Wall Street. We also need Barack Obama’s sense of hope and call for change. And, we need the predictable confrontational clash that has been the United States’ dissonant symphony for the past three years.
If Tuesday’s election results are any indicator, and I think they are, then Middle America has gotten the messages, absorbed them, and is sending a message of its own: Enough. Enough of the fan-folks, hardline, confrontational, I-win-you-lose. Back to the middle where we can get something constructive done.
The New York Times editorial today calls it “back to common sense.”
Douglas Schoen, a political strategist and Fox News commentator, was nowhere near as accommodating, positioning himself on Tuesday ahead of voting, to warn that these kinds of results did not, in fact, mean collaborative heads would prevail. But this paragraph is worth noting because it makes my point that the middle is reasserting its power:
“In fact, that will almost certainly be something of a misreading of the results, as voters in Ohio are strongly supportive of efforts to curb excessive state spending and high levels of taxation, but they are equally skeptical of efforts to reign in unions– particularly through the elimination of collective bargaining rights.”
Yes, the middle can hold both those positions at the same time and search for a middle ground solution. It’s that middle ground on which the fan-folks on all sides can’t walk.
We’re not going to miraculously join hands this afternoon and sing “We are the World.” It will take another decade to pick and choose from among the “extreme” ideas of the past 10 years and adapt them to something quintessentially American.
But, for those who wondered if we’d ever return to less strident, less destructive, less polarizing discussion, the answer was in Tuesday’s ballot box. Yes, we will. Middle America is back in charge.