Budget uncertainty has become a familiar feeling in my young Army career. This year’s government shutdown was my second, the first occurring in 2013, with 2011 a narrow miss. For those of us in the military this has real effects on our everyday life, with clinics and day cares closing along with other vital services, not to mention a halt on our pay.
Why does this continue to happen to us? With a little analysis, it’s not hard to figure out. “Extreme conservatives,” “ultra liberals” and those who see “compromise” as “surrender” are to blame.
It seems so long ago that moderates were celebrated in our country. Bill Clinton rose to the presidency labeling himself as a “centrist” in the early ’90s. A few years later, George Pataki, a self-described moderate Republican, won the governorship in New York state (a thought unthinkable today). Around the same time, there were a couple self-described “conservative Democrats” representing West Virginia in the Senate and a self-described “Liberal Republican” representing the Senate in Vermont.
It is debatable when our hyper-partisan dilemma began. Some blame the Lewinsky scandal; some blame 24-hours news, which started with CNN in 1980, but really soared after ’96 when Fox and MSNBC joined in; some blame the Internet, where anyone with an opinion - informed or uninformed - could command an audience. Regardless of the cause, the effect on our political system has been devastating. Hyper partisanship has turned our government into a never-ending drama of dysfunction and our elections into virtual knife fights with each side trying to make the deepest cut to appease the “base.”
The Republican Party has drifted from the party of lower taxes to lower intelligence on issues like climate change, and the Democratic Party has drifted from the party of the working man to working on every social cause besides fixing the economy. Both parties seem to enjoy divisive social issues more than the fleeting job base for working class men and women; or Clinton emails and Russia collusion more than fixing our broken immigration system. When they discuss these issues, the Republicans go to Fox News, and the Democrats go to MSNBC, each largely speaking to an audience who already agrees with them. There is no real dialogue or tough questions besides the occasional calculated soundbite when one of these outlets wants to act fair.
We will never fix our issues until we fix this dilemma, and it will take some courage from politicians, but also the American people. Let me be the first to say: It’s OK to be a moderate, it’s OK to be a Democrat who agrees with a statement President Donald Trump makes from time to time. (Are Democrats really opposed to spending more on infrastructure?) It’s OK for Republicans to be supportive of union rights, or maybe not toe the hard pro-life line, and vice versa for Democrats who don’t want to take marching orders from pro-choice interest groups.
I think politicians will be pleasantly surprised at what they find if they start talking like a centrist, because in my experience, most Americans are slightly left or slightly right. But the fringes are of course often the loudest and sometimes most obnoxious. So moderates, it’s time to speak up. If we are going to fix our political climate, which is quickly descending into all out chaos, and in turn our country, we need to find common ground.
In short, we need to be more like our military. Each day I work with those with whom I politically disagree, but in the end, we put aside those differences to accomplish a mission. We are conservatives from Alabama and liberals from Minneapolis, but we share something much more important: our love of country.
It’s time for Congress to do the same. Americans too, must stop asking a politician to 100 percent agree with them, and the major political parties must stop drafting their platforms so far to the end of the spectrum that there is no room for dissent. Moderates need to take the lead, moderates need to be proud to call themselves moderates.
Moderate is not a dirty word, it’s the word that just may save this country.
Capt. Kevin Caneco is a member of the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground; the opinions here are his alone and do not represent those of the U.S. Army of Department of Defense. He wrote this for the Baltimore Sun.