Moderate does not equal namby-pamby, and extremism is not an American norm; instead, the founders “celebrated modesty, balance, self-denial, and rationality,” none of which seem abundant in politics today.
Against those who hold that America has become bitterly divided between red and blue, Troy (History/McGill Univ.; Hillary Rodham Clinton: Polarizing First Lady, 2006, etc.) observes that “a rich web of common cultural, political, economic, and social ties” tightly binds the nation. The best presidents, recognizing this network of elective affinities, have governed from a moderate, centrist position and shunned extremes on either side of the aisle. But neither does moderate equal passive: By Troy’s reckoning, the best have exercised “muscular moderation,” as with George Washington’s straight-edged governance over a still tumultuous time and Theodore Roosevelt’s refusal both to play to class loyalties and to accept the notion that capital and labor were necessarily inimical. By that reckoning, Dwight Eisenhower gets solid marks for his detestation of partisan politics and his quaint notion that the president was meant to be a unifier. Some presidents in Troy’s account were set on moderate paths but turned less moderate by events, as with Lyndon Johnson in the face of the Vietnam debacle; some were moderately inclined but so sensitive to public opinion as to be swayed off course, as with Bill Clinton. As for the president who once trumpeted himself as a unifier, Troy joins with a growing majority in finding George W. Bush to be a disaster who “damaged America’s national fabric by failing to lead the country as a whole” and insisted instead that he owed attention only to “everyone who shares our goals.”
Fans of Millard Fillmore, that noted moderate, won’t find much new in these pages, but those sick to death of extremist rhetoric should be assured by the author’s conclusions.