A brief interaction on Friday left me tongue-tied and speechless. Me! The same person who has written over 120,000 words in the last 17 months and spent most Tuesdays around noon yelling into the internet for 10 minutes about local politics could not find the right thing to say.
As I walked into the Chamber luncheon, the president/CEO of the chamber Josh Wooten was walking out.
“Hey, I’ve actually been liking your columns recently,” he said. “Are you becoming a moderate?”
I don’t even remember what I said but it was a fumble for words. The question was asked in good nature. He was opening the door to common ground, identifying that the title of political moderate might be something we both share. This attempt at connecting via a cross-sort was exactly what the Concurrent has talked about that would improve county relationships even among people who have palpable tension.
So if this small exchange was all of these things, then why did it catch me so off guard? Because I don’t consider myself a political moderate, I certainly don’t think Josh Wooten is one either and that is a very good thing for the county.
Josh has been the subject of discussion this week both in alternative media as well as public affairs. The grassroots organizing arm of a blog called Citrus Eagle put out a call to action last Monday to show up to the commission meeting and demand that Josh be fired for comparing people who are speaking out against LGBT library displays to segregationists of former Alabama Governor George Wallace’s south.
Several people did heed the call and emails were sent to chamber board members demanding his termination in addition to others speaking during the public portion of the commission meeting advocating for the same outcome.
To end the chamber meeting on Friday, Josh reaffirmed the chamber’s commitment to diversity - something that rightly received resounding applause.
Here’s the only problem: much like the myth of political moderation, we often overlook exactly what a commitment to diversity means.
The issue that put Josh and I at odds was the 2020 sheriff’s election. He was an ardent supporter of Mel Eakley and I am an unabashed supporter of Sheriff Mike Prendergast. Our deeply held contrary convictions over who should run the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office led to a division that is similar to the library display debate in its ability to polarize two people without a middle ground choice.
This is where moderation disappears. Josh attacked the Sheriff relentlessly on social media then blocked anyone, including me, who didn’t share the same ideology. Nothing is wrong with this as an isolated act. I made the decision in January this year to stop posting or scrolling on my personal Facebook because the interactions I was having were not providing value equal to the time I was spending on it.
What is concerning about it, though, is when we start to use concepts that would benefit the county and communication inconsistently and incorrectly. Take Josh’s statement toward diversity, which is meant to be diversity in accepting people of different sexual orientations but at its core is a statement of ideological diversity acceptance.
Though he was saying that the chamber holds that position, he undoubtedly reflects those values as well - the same person who blocked numerous people on social media because of ideological differences in an election.
This inconsistency should be recognized in us all, and I’m sure my own allegiances to candidates has created some contradictions in my arguments as well. That’s okay - it’s part of being human.
What is not okay is to then label one side of the passionately believed, immovable stances someone personally holds as moderate and the other side that someone else holds with the same fervor and belief as extreme. They are two sides of the same coin and the currency is not moderation as numerous examples show.
Political moderation is a myth much closer to indifference and apathy than it is to compromise and common ground. People should have convictions and the courage to express them with passion.
Tension in the county can be diffused through to the use of cross-sorts, just as Josh smartly did with me on Friday. We should be careful to call these cross-sorts what they are, though, instead of by labels that align with the identity of how we want the world to see us.