We live in an era where most people try to outdo each other in outrageousness. What started out in pop culture has spread into politics, with politicians of every stripe – all the way up to the White House – going to extremes in speech and policy.
That’s what makes a politician who speaks in measured tones these days so refreshing. Take Pete Buttigieg for example. (Yeah, I get it…I’m tired of talking about him, too.) Because the presidential candidate isn’t a firebrand when he speaks – fewer calls for wacky, sweeping legislation than most, and certainly no skateboarding or hopping on tables – that some people have mistaken him for a moderate.
Andrew Sullivan called the mayor of South Bend, Indiana “a modest, reasonable pragmatist, and a near parody of normality” and remarked that Buttigieg “has carved out a moderate place in a field careening leftward.” Politico has even noted that some conservatives have praised Buttigieg.
But he’s decidedly no moderate. Buttigieg’s own communications director has made that point clear. Lis Smith says that the confusion lies in the fact that the candidate is moderate in tone if not in policy:
“It’s very clear where he stands on issues, where he stands as an unabashedly progressive Democrat,” Smith said. “It’s more a matter of his style and approach, that he treats people with respect and he doesn’t engage in the cheap shots that have come to dominate Washington in recent years.”
I’m reminded of something I heard earlier this week on David French and Alexandra DeSanctis’ podcast, Ordered Liberty. French made the comment that some people have told him that they thought he was a moderate because of his measured tone, even though French is a reliable conservative.
The truth is this: too many people are confusing moderation in tone with moderation in policy. Buttigieg has called for abolishing the Electoral College, setting up single-payer health care, and packing the Supreme Court, but just because he’s a firebrand – and conservatives have noticed it – that doesn’t mean that the candidate is in the center politically.
Have our politicians amped their rhetoric up so high that otherwise intelligent people mistake a measured tone with a moderate outlook? Have we confused moderation in tone with moderation in policy so badly that a run-of-the-mill left-winger can look like a centrist? If so, we may be in worse shape than I thought.