I won't be saying a whole lot on areas of agreement, because where I don't push back, I agree with Matthew entirely. And there is plenty to agree with. I also apologize if there is overlap between myself and other commentators, I didn't read through their thoughts. ;)
A BRIEF SELF-CENTERED NOTE
I do claim to be a political moderate. I think the label I've used is "Liberal Republican." As with many people, I'm liberal on many things (immigration, welfare) and conservative on many things (taxes, abortion). I am slow to take sides unless I think I'm fully informed, and I get very discomforted when I see instances of group think. I've been accused of resorting to a "middle of the road" fallacy, and that may be true.
The truth isn't always found in the middle, but starting in the middle and keeping a sure footing has often given me much room to wiggle in the realm of contentious issues.
So, just something to provide a bit of where I am coming from.
THE NECESSITY OF MODERATES
However, I do think Matthew has too narrow a view of moderates. The negative side of moderates can very well includes those who simply avoid extremes or are spineless. The positive side, which I think far outweighs the negative, is that moderates can have a tempering effect on extremism.
Let me explain. In a room where a fundamentalist christian and a stuffy atheist are duking it out, having someone where to pump the breaks and affirm areas of agreement will more than like save the lives of the atheist or theist. Also, having the moderate around to remove sharp objects is a plus, as they are unusually sensitive to their surroundings.
But one a more serious note, when I've debated religious/political liberals, I've been very quick to point out what I think. I think most moderates that I know (save for that one I won't talk about) are very quick to state their views, and with passion.
But, the tempering effect is needed, especially in polarizing times.
EVERYTHING IN MODERATION
I do think Matthew has put some form of the cart before the horse. Certainly, "moderate" can be used as a "get out of awkward conversation" card. I did that once, and it worked like a charm. And I agree with Matthew that if you don't have convictions about the issue then "stay out of political debates."
That is an entirely fair statement.
But I do think Matthew stretches himself a little thin on this. The personal element is missing. Simply put, people like me are very slow to dive into a bloodied arena where opinions are being used like machetes to hack apart such things as universal healthcare. It is not that we do not have opinions, but that depending on the company, we are very slow to give them.
An example may help frame this:
I have had several people (some friends, some strangers) bring up the topic of hell to me. Depending on who they are, I had various answers, all version of what I currently believe (and if you want to know, buy a ticket). It purely depends on who I am talking to. If one is antagonistic, I am very slow to respond. If one shows signs of interest, I'm more open to giving my thoughts.
It is a defense mechanism.
Sociology and psychology are necessary, and cannot be stressed enough. Some people, depending on their personality types, are slow to respond, or may lack certain nuances to their arguments. Thus, coming across as firing blanks is something that doesn't result from a lack of conviction, but of a thwarted attempting at explaining them. Its like a kid who stutters when asked for her thoughts.
THE NASTY POLITICAL DISCORDANT DISAGREEMENTS
Politics is a nasty game. It ruins friendships, compromises marriages and makes for awesome satire. A modest proposal, if you may. Do not be afraid of being a Democrat or a Republican. Do not ruin a conversation by being lukewarm. Stay out fo it.
But, liberals and conservatives need to keep in mind that discussion involving controversial issues that effect our lives need to be slow to anger and realize that not every is as passionate as they are. Moderation is key. But always be prepared to stop, drop and roll when a conversation gets heated.
But if you don't feel a part of either party, there is always the House Party.