Unless they're already committed ideologically one way or another, Americans tend to think highly of political moderates. They like the words independent, bipartisan, compromise, and nonpartisan. They cringe when they hear about extremists, die-hards, polarization and hardcore ideologues.
Linda Parks fits the popular definition of moderate. She's a Democrat-turned Republican who has served Ventura County as a supervisor. Now she's a Republican-turned-independent as she runs for Congress.
Her independence was the focus of a recent Star column that asked, "In polarized politics, is there room on the equator?"
She has what on the surface appears to be a compelling message at a time when the approval rating for Congress among California voters stands at 17 percent.
Her message: Congress is broken and the war between parties has rendered it dysfunctional. "The extreme partisanship in Congress diminishes their very ability to legislate," she writes on her campaign website.
Beneath the surface it may not be a clear cut case of an independent person trying to bring common sense to Washington, an image Parks would like to portray. Surely a catalyst behind her nonpartisan registration is that neither party wanted her. I'm probably too cynical to think that if the GOP establishment was going to get 100% percent behind her that she would reject their financial and organizational assistance so she could remain independent. It's easy to go your own way when nobody else wants to go with you.
Circumstances may have chosen independence for her, just as electoral politics may have decided her switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party so many years ago when she was a Democrat eyeing a seat in a Republican district. She wisely switched parties and became a successful location politician. But her heart didn't seem to change with her party registration.
All that's required to be a "moderate," according to the prevailing wisdom that almost everyone accepts, is that you cross party lines from time-to-time. That you "play things down the middle."
Under that definition, Parks is indeed a moderate. She was a liberal Republican who often sided with Democrats and was at odds with Ventura County's conservative Republican establishment. But, while she's proven to be flexible as far as party registration has occurred, is she moderate in her political beliefs?
She has a strong environmental record that will appeal to Democrats and most independents in the district.
Until earlier this month, when she had to change her voter registration so that she could run as an independent, Parks was a registered Republican. She may now be able to appeal to disaffected Republicans based on such issues as her support for a woman's ability "as a last resort" to choose to have an abortion "without government interference."
That's an apt summary of her ideology. She's a pro-choice environmentalist, and she won't say if she prefers Pelosi or Boehner. That's nice, but that's hardly middle of the road on the liberal/conservative spectrum.
Here's the problem with labeling someone as a middle-of-the road moderate because they are ideologically inclined one way but registered another way.
Anyone who's read anything I've written would call me a committed conservative. Probably a hard-core conservative Republican, or a right winger. They'd say I'm anything but moderate.
But all I would have to do to become a "moderate," using the prevailing definition, would be to change my party registration to Democrat.
Then, even though I've retained every single right-wing belief I have, I'd suddenly be working across the aisle since I'd be a Democrat that finds Republican legislation palatable. In other words, in order to get praised by the public as a moderate, I just have to hide from them my true beliefs!
And so it is with Linda Parks. From what I can see, she never dropped her liberal beliefs when she left the Democratic Party to run in a Republican district. When pointing out that she also has beliefs on the right side of the aisle, we're told that well, she's pro-choice. If that's her biggest GOP credential, then she must not have had to do much soul-searching for her to drop her Republican registration.
Ironically, I'm a real moderate. While Parks is crafty enough to avoid saying whether Pelosi or Boehner is better, I'll tell you straight up that they both drive me nuts. I'll tell you that George W. Bush and Barack Obama have spent and are spending the country into oblivion.
As far as my political preference is concerned, the aforementioned big spending Obama isn't going to get my vote, even though I think he's a genius and an effective leader. He's just going in the wrong direction. And though I'm called a conservative, I'm not sold on Santorum since I don't think he has enough executive experience to make me comfortable with him running a huge bureaucracy. Nor do I think he can beat the Obama machine. Romney has proven to be an effective executive, but I think Romneycare was a disaster. I love Paul's fiscal policies but his foreign policy would be national suicide. Gingrich has the right policies and the chops to run an organization, but I have problems with his morality.
Isn't that how a real moderate thinks?