HOW HE SEES IT Angry left, right crowding out middle

Maybe it happens this way in most elections. But it really seems the middle's getting squeezed in this presidential election. The angry idealists are going at it from the left and right, leaving the practical middle wondering which way it should go.
I found myself in this predicament recently in New York, where I moderated a 45-minute exchange between Gary Bauer of the evangelical right and Joseph Hough of the Protestant left. The two went after it over matters like how you treat the poor. Even though it was barely 9 in the morning, the interview grew so heated that I found myself watching a verbal boxing match. As I walked back to my hotel, I kept wondering where are the middle grounders in this election, the people who can draw from left and right and form some new path?
They aren't to be found. We have anger on the left and anger on the right. Everywhere you turn, people are mad. John Kerry's riding his angrycrats for all their worth, while George W. Bush's doing the same with the perpetually mad within the GOP.
The left's anger is pretty clear. It stems from the president's Iraq move. Angry lefties also don't like his stem cell decision and his gay marriage ban. Cause after cause lined up to protest the president's policies during the GOP convention.
To be sure, some angry lefties simply don't like George W. Bush. That's the grumpy, resentful Michael Moore crowd, which seethes with rage against the president. Only comedian Al Franken gives liberalism a cheeriness. Even he's angry, and says as much.
The right is mad for different reasons. There's the Zell Miller angry right. They think John Kerry is a weakling who'll not make the tough calls around the world.
Maybe he will, maybe he won't. But Sen. Miller came across at the GOP convention as an old-fashioned crank. Bush pollster Matthew Dowd said before Miller spoke that the Democrat was appealing to voters in Green Bay, where conservative Catholic Democrats are trying to decide where to go in November. OK, but whatever happened to that sunny conservatism Reaganites were recalling so fondly just three months ago at Ronald Reagan's funeral?
It's hard to find because some true-believing conservatives like being resentful, as does Michael Moore on the left. It's their natural state. They like having a target to attack.
Radical Islam
This is going to get me in trouble, but the rise of radical Islam benefits their cause at just the right moment. Not one single conservative would want a 9/11, but some may find radical Islamists a convenient target to chew up, particularly since communists no longer matter. It helps their fundraising drives, and gives them a new force to attack.
Anger doesn't drive voters in the middle. They tend toward the practical, looking for the candidate who can best resolve Iraq, best improve the deficit and best give the economy enough juice. They care mostly about getting their problems solved.
The downside to this crowd is they lack the ideals that propel the angrycrats. The belligerent left and angry right have strong beliefs. The practical middle looks at the world on a case-by-case basis. Organizing principles don't necessarily drive the practical ones.
Still, the middle matters greatly in this campaign's closing weeks. With such a close election, the nominees and their strategists need them to close the deal. And one thing's for sure: Screamers like Michael Moore and Zell Miller won't reach the practical middlers. Carroll Doughtery of the Pew Center for the People and the Press says their recent polls show that "negativity" from both camps really bothers the middle.
It seems to me the candidate who understands this point reaches the practical middle and wins the White House. Before George W. Bush and John Kerry can do that, they're going to have tone down their Zell Millers and Michael Moores.
X William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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