The key to unabashed cheerfulness, like mine, is moderating expectations. Set low enough standards, as some ancient codger must have mused, and you’ll never be disappointed. So, wide-eyed optimists jarred from a deep sleep by a furious thunderclap will take heart – if our roof isn’t leaking, the house still level, and the toilet flushes. We positivists wake to the morning’s renewed, infinite possibilities – until space, time, commuting, bosses, or family-holiday dinners intervene.
In this spirit, let’s tackle the wild idea that fringe extremism hijacked a less delusional, “conservative” party open to compromise. Right, the steamroller for decades busting its gut to repeal the 20th Century by reinstating the ominous 19th. Or for Newt (no child labor laws) Gingrich, the 18th. Nevertheless, this season’s spectacle of imploding nincompoops caused the pundit left to overshoot, stereotyping every rightwing claim as irrational and extreme. Today, we unpack moderate chunks in the extremist gumbo by adopting this philosophic perspective: “could be worse.” Optimists are optimistic not because we think things are great but because we can imagine worse.
‘This is nothing’
Reality, after all, is 80% perspective, unless you’re flattened by pain, in jail, drenched by pepper-spray or bloodied by a police riot. To get a handle on what appears careening out of control, recall Dustin Hoffman’s refrain, as the producer in Wag the Dog: “this is nothing. This is nothing. D’you ever shoot in Italy? Try three Italian starlets whacked out on Benzedrine and grappa, this is a walk in the park.”
First up – what seems moral and legal depravity: war cries from stumbling, third-rate fringe candidates to keep torture in our anti-terrorism tool kit. Rick Perry is willing to defend waterboarding “until I die,” a curious turn of phrase considering how many die from torture. Nevertheless, we’re gifted with another unforgettable Perryism: “Give them torture or give me death.”
Of course torture only qualifies as torture when done to someone else, say pepper-spraying blatant enemies of the state, like that non-violent, 84 year-old woman from Seattle. Thankfully, this heroic Occupy protester wasn’t locked up, nor tortured further, put on the rack, nor scheduled for rendition. So far, we think, she’s escaped the White House hit list, our honor roll of untried citizen marauders up for termination. Like I said, there’s always good news if you look hard enough.
The Untortured 99%
Speaking of torture and Occupy movements, thanks due to Dick Cheney for first fixating 99% as a magic number – though his paranoid threshold claimed a 1% chance of attack justified mass imprisonment, no due process, and the third degree. Not only was his 1% presumed guilty, the nefarious part was denying them any means to prove their innocence. How weirdly wonderful OWS refreshes 99% to high prominence, aptly identifying the real enemy – super-rich pigs at the trough violently guarding their treasure. Plus, unlike Cheney’s fantasies, the 1% targeted today are both liable and totally identifiable – count their excess compensation, bank balances, and political graft.
In any case, no GOP candidates yet demand occupiers be waterboarded or locked in the slammer permanently. And even Perry mercifully withholds capital punishment for camping out in public parks. Are these signs of moderation, or what? Plus, our most discredited, war hero-maverick, John McCain, crawled from senility to rebuke the torture brigade, assailing “enhanced interrogation” as impractical, immoral, illegal, and encouraging retaliation. Of course, the immoderate Rush Limbaugh will shift the debate tomorrow with some new “outrage of the day,” like pushing public lynching of uppity minorities or police dogs sicced on Zuccotti Park.
Restraint on Iran
Next up, GOP moderation today that reforms the unilateral, pre-emptive Bush Doctrine — that swashbuckling, imperialist scheme vexing Sarah Palin. Of all nitwits, let us praise the Hermanator not just for displaying bold restraint but truly revealing, though singular logic. From a real interview:
JOURNAL SENTINEL: Would you favor a military strike against Iran to stop that country from developing a nuclear capability?
HERMAN CAIN: That is not a practical, top-tier alternative and here’s why. If you look at the topography of Iran. Where are you going to strike? It’s very mountainous. That’s what makes it very difficult.
Guess, we’ll have to find another way around peaks. Look, we wide-eyed, anti-war fanatics grasp at any straw, even Ron Paul’s notion all remote, non-essential brutality violates a myriad of Constitutional clauses. Now it’s Cain’s slogan for the ages: “give us mountains or give them death.” Good peace work, Herman, though no compliments to your fact-checking staff. Curiously, the McCain who hates tortures carries no such qualms about war-making, as in “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” Right, just temporary insanity.
Further evidence of newly-minted GOP prudence: Newt the loose cannon nominally agrees with Cain, attacking Iran only if and when that destroys the regime in power. What moderation, here — worked in Vietnam and Afghanistan, didn’t it? How Gingrich guarantees absolute results from bunker-busting bombs, aside from infuriating Iranians, we leave to the next comic GOP debate. But note: this wary, vote-hungry Newt sounds restrained next to past Cheney-Rumsfeld rampaging — whose pre-emptive strikes against non-belligerents only mandated “too big an oil patch to fail.”
Bordering on reason
And finally, look how immigration spawns GOP moderation. True, the Hermanator joked about electrified borders, and rumors of alligators in border moats, but just for laughs. The good news: who else on the right rushed to endorse burning immigrants, with or without Miranda warnings? And no one yet urges the torture the right loves, nor a firing squad, for hungry interlopers. Even Perry the great capital punisher goes mushy moderate when defending education for children of Texas’ undocumented. Contrast Cain, Bachmann, Santorum, and Romney, berating Perry for mottle-codling – equating any goodies for “illegals” with the dreaded A-word: Amnesty. Make living in America so unbearable, they say, starving Mexicans will sneak back across the border, still carrying their sole belongings. Right, now that’s immoderate, especially with border guards on alert both ways.
Again, we’re saved by Newt, whose moderation here now angers his fringe base: “If you’ve been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grand kids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.” But Newt, what if they’re childless atheists who pay no taxes? Round ’em up, move “em out? Only the fertile, born-again and employed stay.
But his half-assed moderation paid off as the very conservative New Hampshire Union Leader Sunday endorsed Gingrich for his principled defiance of popular prejudices. Gingrich, principled?! Editorial page editor, Andrew Cline, explains, “Given the choice between the candidate who wants to be liked and the candidate who wants to be respected, we would rather have the guy who wants to be respected.” Thus, Cline scalds Mitt as the “very play-it-safe candidate” more suitable for “the late 19th century.” Ouch, but how true. Ironically, Cline can’t “imagine” a president who forever plays it safe, never wants “to offend anybody” and “wants to be liked” by all.
Well, actually, Mr. Dimwitted Cline, we all know exactly what extreme presidential caution looks like, the ultimate, squishy, compromising moderate whose bottom line is “play it safe,” desperate never to consciously offend any voting block, left, right or middle. Not of course, the disagreeable Romney, a craven roulette wheel of increasingly rightwing lurches devoid of moderation. Cline’s language best describes only one candidate, the guy already in the White House – a virtual slave to moderation. But that’s another essay, left for another day. I never said GOP moderation, such as it is, doesn’t have its own tradeoffs.