"Moderation is a generally misunderstood virtue," writes David Brooks in his discussion of the moral character of Dwight Eisenhower (a previous blog post explored some other elements of this discussion). "Moderation is not just finding the mid-point between two opposing poles and opportunistically planting yourself there."
"On the contrary," he writes, "moderation is based on an awareness of the inevitability of conflict." Moderates don't think the world can be fit neatly together. Brooks adds, "If you think all moral values point in the same direction, or all political goals can be realized all at once by a straightforward march along one course, you don't need to be moderate, either. . . Moderation is based on the idea that things do not fit neatly together."
So, a moderate must accept "that you will never get to live a pure and perfect life," because there will always be compromises between competing values.
Brooks uses the opportunity of discussing this virtue in relationship to Ike to give a warning to political leaders. Be careful what you do because "the damage leaders do when they get things wrong is greater than the benefits they create when they get things right." Ike is often criticized for what he didn't do. Maybe there was a good reason?
Brooks also contrasts Ike's farewell with Kennedy's inaugural. Ike spoke with humility about finding balance, while Kennedy challenged the nation to move forward with confidence. Brooks concludes with something that sounds like a dire warning at this particular moment,
Like the nation's founders, [Ike] built his politics on distrust of what people might do if they have unchecked power. He communicated the sense that in most times, leaders have more to gain from being stewards of what they inherited than by being destroyers of what is there and creators of something new.