One of the defining characteristics of political moderates is that they try to look at an issue from multiple sides. It doesn’t explain all moderates… some reflexively back away from any firm position, for example… but that is the way most experienced and thoughtful moderates approach politics.
I’ve never been a moderate. Even today I tend to define myself as a hardliner, albeit one whose policy preferences no longer have a party who represents them. I’m opinionated, I’m confident, I’m intelligent, I’m experienced and I’m informed. These are reasons I believe my opinions are correct.
None of that is likely to change, but it invites arrogance. I attempt to combat that by regularly reminding myself not of the many times I can pat myself on the back by predicting outcomes early, but of the many times I’ve been wrong.
The Dow Jones, today, is a perfect example. Despite all of the market manipulation the Trump administration has performed in the past, I did not expect the market to rebound above 21,000 until the end of the first wave of the coronavirus crisis. I underestimated the amount of long-term fiscal damage that Republicans and Democrats alike would sign on to, and I underestimated the Republican willingness to allow the deaths of a hundred thousand citizens.
Despite my natural proclivity toward taking firm positions, the willingness to admit mistakes has pushed me toward trying to see things from multiple angles. It’s that drift toward arrogance that fuels it: I don’t like to be wrong.
When you look at the shutdown, one thing becomes obvious: the “open it up” people have at least one good point. The fact that they’re addressing it in a foolish way does not diminish the validity of the position.
Our society is dependent on economic activity. Manufacturing goods and performing services generates wealth, and that wealth is in turn depleted by consumption. While we are locked down, we remain consumers of food, entertainment, and goods.
Under any objective analysis, our nation is already in a state of incredible debt. We simply do not have the stores available to deplete our wealth while not replenishing it. That is true at the local level, as well. Few people have enough in savings to easily weather twelve months of not generating new income. Fewer business have that capability. If we merely hunker down and fail to engage in anything beyond the most basic of economic activity, we are going to see long-term economic devastation. This is going to be independent of the stock market, which as we’ve seen can be gamed by targeted government programs.
Our answer cannot be to demand that businesses stay shuttered. On the other hand, public safety requires that businesses remain closed until the spread of the virus has stopped.
The “all or nothing” approaches both fail. This is a time for a moderate solution. Some places, like Kansas City, are attempting to find one by performing actions like monitoring the people who remain in a venue for more than a few minutes; by doing so, they are establishing an easily consulted log for contact tracing purposes, something that can help reduce viral transmissions. Some restaurants and stores have initiated curbside services, minimizing transmission vectors while allowing purchases to be made. These are alternatives, and they need to be embraced until such time as our leaders bother to address the problem of the coronavirus.
Right now, people are polarizing: we can’t stay shut down forever vs. we have to open everything right now. Both are wrong. We cannot, and should not, be shaming those who want to open up the country. We should instead be demanding they do so in a way which respects public safety.
We have spent years insisting, correctly, that the government isn’t the answer to our problems. If this is the case, then we, the people, must be the answer. No solutions are going to come when we simply point at the other sides and deride them. We are constantly learning more about the transmission of this virus. We can use that information to suggest reasonable ways to engage in commerce while minimizing the public danger.
To the core of the thoughtful moderate approach, we need to consider the issue from multiple sides. We have to do so, because none of the alternatives are viable.
I’m putting my money where my mouth is. Today, my family and I are going to the zoo. It’s an open air location. We won’t be going into any of the enclosed exhibits. We’re not going to be touching surfaces. We’re going to be masked, in case we accidentally walk within six feet of someone who is breathing upwind from us or within eight feet of a “loud talker”.
This is being done to help normalize life for my daughter, certainly. It’s also being done because we’re in a place, financially, where we can afford small ventures like zoo trips despite the drain of lockdown. The zoo needs our support… as do the many small restaurants from which we’ve been irregularly ordering and the many online and local small businesses from which we’ve been making purchases.
This is what needs to be done, if these venues have any hope of surviving the crisis. This is where reason and individualism – not a political nobility empowered by division and partisanship – should lead us.