Another View -- Todd Selig: In praise of moderation along the Merrimack
The Merrimack River spans 117 miles, rising at the confluence of the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee rivers in Franklin, and flowing southward into Massachusetts. The "Mighty Merrimack," as Granite State natives refer to it, was once the centerpiece of New Hampshire prosperity during the industrial era.
Like the Merrimack, thoughtful moderation at the very equilibrium of the political spectrum has been a source of sustained nourishment fostering good governance and thoughtful decision-making in New Hampshire for more than two centuries.
Moderation, in a time of extremism, does not get a lot of respect, yet it is a necessary quality for the effective functioning of democracy. Moderate thinking has benefited our state capital, itself located in the heart of the Merrimack Valley, in innumerable ways and it has many attributes. Moderation is a personal characteristic, related to reason, balanced judgment, and tolerance. It is also a constitutional vision that frowns upon rigidity and embraces innovative solutions and thoughtful compromise to address society's most pressing needs.
Through the centuries moderation has been linked with support for a balance of power, with "checks and balances" between branches of government. Indeed, the founders of our nation and our state embraced such an approach with the creation of the three branches of government we use today: executive, legislative and judicial.
Moderate individuals take their cues from history books and objective data, not philosophy books. That is, a moderate is not inextricably committed to an abstract idea. Instead, he or she has a deep appreciation for the way people live in this state and the core principles behind that way of life: hard work; individualism; natural landscape; small, yet highly effective government; low taxes; quality education; good fences making good neighbors.
Moderates realize we have a tradition of healthy conflict in New Hampshire. They do not try to solve those differences of opinion. "There are no ultimate solutions," writes David Brooks of The New York Times on the topic of moderation. Most public debates worth having encompass choices and tradeoffs involving at least two partially true points of view, which sit in tension to one another. The moderate tries to find an equitable solution between them given present circumstances and constraints, while respecting the will of the majority and at the same time protecting the interests of the minority.
The passing of time brings with it new challenges - the Industrial Revolution, the Cold War, climate change, the Great Recession - all of which at a given point in history have upset the balance. But our system of democratic governance works best over time to reach a sustainable equilibrium through moderation.
The moderate in New Hampshire governance is the metaphorical captain who unrelentingly trims the sails to keep the ship of state on an even keel through changing currents, shifting winds and bends in the riverbed.
New Hampshire in 2013 faces serious issues. Slow economic growth, stagnant revenue, an aging workforce, inadequate funding for the state's university system, widespread public infrastructure in need of investment, the Northern Pass, the expansion of gambling, questions surrounding gun control, funding for public education, and whether to extend commuter rail from Concord through Manchester and Nashua to Boston, to name but a few.
It will take energetic, hard-hitting policies to solve these challenges. Such policies will ultimately find sustained support at the equilibrium of the spectrum through moderation.
There are indeed times and circumstances that demand forms of extremism rather than compromise, for short duration. Yet like binge eating or drinking, extremism is not sustainable or healthful for an individual or for New Hampshire over time. Moderation is.
Edmund Burke once wrote that moderation is "the virtue only of superior minds." It takes courage indeed these days to be moderate. But like the mighty Merrimack, it is the river that binds us.
Todd Selig is Durham's town administrator.