MODERATION….Warning: this turned into a rather long and rambling post, and no, I’m not entirely sure what my point is. Sorry about that, but read on anyway….

Yesterday I blogged about an internet poll that matches up your policy preferences with those of the presidential candidates. The comments were enlightening, I thought, especially the conversation about what a “moderate” liberal is these days.

I described myself as being in the leftward 20% of the country, for example, which provoked two quite opposite responses. One commenter was “dumbfounded” that I thought of myself as anything but a centrist liberal, calling my positions “common sense,” while another suggested that I’m “perceived as a left wing nut case by most American voters.”

So which am I? Centrist or nut case? To answer this, let’s take a look at a few distinctions that I think are important, as well as a look at the real world and where we bloggers stand in it.

First, there’s a difference between policy moderation and rhetorical moderation. John Kerry, for example, is probably about as liberal as Howard Dean if you look at his actual policy positions, but Dean uses more fiery rhetoric. Likewise, aside from a regrettable weakness for sarcasm, my writing tends to be pretty sober compared to someone like Atrios. But on actual political positions, we’re fairly close.

Then there are the various types of moderation. Here are a few:

  • Genuine moderation, in which your opinion is truly somewhere between the extremes. This probably describes my position on gun control, for example.

  • Compromise moderation, where your position is extreme but you’re willing to compromise if you think it might put to rest a contentious issue. That would describe my view on abortion if I thought that the pro-life forces would ever be willing to accept a compromise. (And hold your comments on this, please. I’m well aware that they aren’t, so there’s really no point in compromise on our side.)

  • Real world moderation, in which you realize that your position simply isn’t supported by very many people, so you don’t talk much about it. That would describe my position on most religious matters.

So what does it all mean? Just how liberal am I, really? Here are a few answers:

  • From a policy perspective, I’m pretty liberal. If you’re not sure you believe this, keep in mind that the blogosphere does not represent the country as a whole. Libertarians, for example, are vastly overrepresented, as are activists on both sides. The country is not as hawkish as the warbloggers might make you believe, and Howard Dean is not as popular as the lefty blogosphere would have you believe. So while I may be fairly moderate from a lefty blog perspective, I’m pretty solidly liberal from a real-world perspective anywhere outside of Marin County or the Upper West Side.

  • My views have changed over time. Twenty years ago, for example, I didn’t think of income inequality as a huge problem. Today, after two decades of widening inequality, skyrocketing CEO compensation, and steady reductions in the real minimum wage, I think it’s something to worry about, and this makes my economic outlook more liberal than it used to be. Overall, however, my views have probably stayed pretty steady, while the country has moved considerably rightward. So while 20 years ago I would have put myself in the leftward third of the country, today I’m probably in the leftward 20%.

  • From a blog writing perspective, I’m quite moderate. I believe pretty strongly in trying to persuade, not hector, and in trying to form alliances to get things done. Did Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the election in 2000? Probably, but I don’t really care. If you’re willing to vote for the Democratic candidate in 2004, then I’m on your side, and we can sort out our differences later.

So why talk about all this? I guess I just think that regardless of your political or strategic views (solidify the base vs. reach out to moderates, for example), it’s important to understand electoral reality. A clear-eyed look at polling data puts my political views pretty far to the left, and if you think of me as only barely a liberal at all, that means you’re even farther to the left. That’s fine, but you should understand exactly what that means and whether it’s likely that you can rally very many voters to your banner. A strategy for winning elections depends on an understanding of reality, not on wishful thinking about whether the rest of the country would really be on our side if only Bush & Co. would stop lying about us.

That’s important, because right now I just want to get George Bush out of office. No third party has been successful for the past century and a half in America, and our electoral system makes it highly unlikely that one will be successful in the next century and a half either. That means finding a Democrat who’s reasonably in tune with what we want but is still centrist enough to have a chance of winning a nationwide election given the realities of where the political center is these days. I may be more moderate than, say, Ampersand, Jeanne d’Arc, or the Daily Kos crew, but I’ll make common cause with them any day. I hope they feel the same way.