Monday, March 20, 2006

The Incredible, Shrinking Moderate Republican

E. J. Dionne has a great column today in the Washington Post about the impending retirement of Sherwood Boehlert from Congress (one of the last great liberal Republicans from New York in the tradition of Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits)as well the demise of the liberal wing of the GOP. Dionne does a good job of answering why there needs to be a moderate/liberal/progressive wing of the GOP:

Why does the decline and fall of liberal Republicanism matter? After all, rationalizing the political system into a more conservative GOP and a more-or-less liberal Democratic Party makes the alternatives clearer to voters, who are offered, in Goldwater's famous phrase, "a choice, not an echo."

But it turns out that a Republican Party dominated by conservatives is no more coherent than the party that left room for progressives. The huge budget deficit is conservatism's Waterloo, testimony to its political failure. The conservatives love to cut taxes but can't square their lust for tax reduction with plausible spending cuts. Oh, yes, a group of House conservatives has a paper plan involving deep program cuts, but other conservatives know that these cuts will not pass, and shouldn't.

Paradoxically, because the liberal Republicans didn't pretend to hate government, they were better at fiscal responsibility. They were willing to match their desired spending levels with the taxes to pay for them. It didn't make for exciting, to-the-barricades politics. It merely produced good government.

Right on. It's funny that the same ones who talk about how Washington takes the people's money and waste it, are the same ones who have run up the deficit and in the words of John McCain, spend the people's money like "drunken sailors." A party with more moderates would have kept the party more faithful to its fiscal conservative heritage. I believe moderates have been the ones that keep the institutional memory of the party, reminding it of its roots, from Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. As the ranks of moderates decreases, the memory is lost.

But I think moderates are also needed in the social arena. You are already seeing how the current GOP has basically pushed the anti-gay marriage issue. The party that helped free the slaves, is now being known as the party that is bigoted to gay people. Maybe more moderates in the party would have blunted the hate filled campaign that the GOP is so eager to get into.

It isn't easy being a dying breed. But what keeps me going is something that amidst all the supposed triumph of the hard right, there are cracks forming and dissidents standing up. Maybe it won't happen right away, but maybe in time there will be enough voices to steer the party back the truly "right path" and away from the cliff.

Even a pessimist like me has to have hope...


dorsano said...

I don't much care for too much government or too much consolidation in the private sector but

if we elect people who think that government can't do much good, it seems sort of silly to expect them to do much good when they govern.

Joe C. said...

It is exactly because the Republican majorities in Congress have been taken over by "moderates" that we find ourselves in this fiscal mess. What we need is to become conservative again. We righted the ship for a short time in the mid to late nineties then got wobbly (i.e. moderate) after passing the tax cuts. Spending has exploded and outstripped the economic stimulous and increased revenues provided by the tax cuts, in spite of 9/11 and the GWOT. Imagine how better off we'd be fiscally if we had real conservatives leading instead of the invertebrate poll-watching rent-seeker moderates/liberals we have now.