The other squeezed middle

It’s been a busy week of dawn to dusk meetings, but I did manage to finish Jack Rakove’s  on election night (before going to sleep, secure in my eldest son’s confidence in Nate Silver). For a British reader like me, this bit of history is unfamiliar – I can’t imagine why, but it tends to be glossed over in the curriculum in our schools. However, even for American readers, the approach is probably quite fresh – not strictly chronological but thematic essays, each of which uses some key characters as the narrative driver. And for anybody, of course, it’s interesting to consider the dysfunctionality of modern American politics in the light of this foundational period.

Consider, for example, this passage:

“To be a political moderate during this final crisis [1776] meant something more than holding a middle ground between radicals like the Adamses and future turncoats like Joseph Galloway [who he?]. Moderation did not mean keeping an open mind about rival claims or seeking to balance clashing points of view. Nor were moderates the 18th century version of undecided voters, unsure of their own views or trimming their sails to any passing political breeze. Moderation is better considered as a political position in its own right …. the moderate political leaders … did possess a distinct set of attitudes.”

Surely this is just as true of today’s ‘disenfranchised’ middle? Of course, the 18th century moderates got squeezed out by events that fed extreme views. That’s the trouble with turbulent times.

I was also very struck by the sections on George Washington and the advantage he gained from thinking strategically – that is, more than one move ahead – especially when pitted against wishful thinking on the other side. As noted in my recent post, (Strategic) thinking is hard to do, this is a vanishingly rare skill, so obviously something that our human nature doesn’t equip us for. In contrast to wishful thinking – for a prize example of which, see Jon Stewart on the Fox News coverage on Tuesday night.

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