WASHINGTON -- Now that the elections are over -- and with them, at least temporarily, all the talk about the United States veering to the far left or the far right -- let us consider "moderation."
The word did pop up occasionally during the 25 years of this campaign ... oops, I mean the many months of this campaign, in which we dutifully studied whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would be better for our digestion (so we wouldn't spit out our hatreds so disastrously) or our drinking (as we always tell our doctors, we drink "moderately").
Every once in a while, usually at the end of a day of attempted rhetorical murder on both ends of the spectrum, someone mentioned the word, usually with either bitter disdain or the hope of a person often beaten down.
Moderation -- UGH!
While the word has a bundle of meanings, the ones most relevant to our searching here would be these: "temperate, avoidance of excesses or extremes," while "to moderate," also applicable here, would be "to make less violent and excessive."
But is this what Americans really want in their heart of hearts, or is it simply what they want to be able to want?
We had surprise victories of some moderates, such as Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts against Republican Scott Brown, himself a maverick who won Ted Kennedy's historic seat in a special election in 2010 after Kennedy's death. We know that President Obama is considered more of a moderate to most people than Mitt Romney.
But we also know that Republican Romney bounced back and forth on the issues in the most peculiar way. He was pro-choice and pro-health-care policy as governor of Massachusetts, and just the opposite during this campaign. During the campaign, too, he never uttered a word against the Wall Street financiers whose wealth-creating shenanigans (for themselves) brought on the 2008 recession, surely because that was his world in earlier years.
Despite Romney's changes in the general campaign, many analysts still believed, and many hoped, that the old "Moderate Mitt" would surely emerge were he elected president.
President Obama may have rearranged his priorities from the first campaign for the policies he intended to introduce once he was president -- immigration reform, for instance -- but the fact is that he has carried through on a number of those earlier promises (health care, gays in the military, ending the Iraq and Afghan wars).
And while Obama has been called a "socialist" by the extremists on the right, the fact is that Obama, like FDR with his collectivist actions during the Depression that saved capitalism, may have saved capitalism in our times with his bailout of the auto industry and his TARP bailout of the Wall Street investment houses and banks. His "Obamacare" is also, unarguably, designed to give health care to the people -- but through market means.
The lesson seems to be that Obama has been, at heart, a moderate all his life.
Watching the results of the elections, more than the debates or the campaign rallies, I got a warm and fuzzy feeling that the American people had found the candidates out.
There was an exactness to the voting, as though the targeting of certain people and policies went beyond the abilities of the campaigns to do so.
How else do you explain that both of the candidates who made such disgusting comments about rape -- Missouri Republican congressman Todd Akin ("legitimate rape") and Indiana Republican congressman Richard E. Mourdock ("something that God intended to happen") were defeated?
Is it possible that the American voter pinpointed their targets for defeat this time around -- and that they knew exactly why?
My tentative answer is "Yes." One could only look at the TV pictures of Americans standing in line to vote -- happily. One had only to listen to the voters on the radio, laughing and saying how much fun it was to stand in line for three hours because they were chatting with their neighbors. Maybe, maybe, something has turned around in America.
I believe something has. We have not had a really serious, thoughtful, moderate president since George H.W. Bush, who ended the Cold War, oversaw the end of communism and the Soviet empire, came near to an Israeli-Palestinian peace and brilliantly executed the 1991 Gulf War.
Let us hope that President Obama, in his second incarnation, will become the natural inheritor of that lost mantle. Moderate liberalism and liberal moderation are not lost; with this election, it may well turn out that they are back in style. As the moderate leader of a moderate people in a more moderate age, Obama II may save us yet.