Monday, May 24, 2010

Tom Horner and Moderate Republicans

I've been thinking lately about Tom Horner and Moderate Republicans.

For those who don't live in Minnesota, Tom Horner is a former Republican who is running for governor under the centrist Independence Party banner. He's been a lifelong Republican, who believes that the party no longer represents his brand of a more center-right Republicanism, so he has gone to the IP to seeks it's endorsement.

I have mixed feelings about all this. On the one hand, I tend to share Horner's center-right views and find the GOP candidate for governor, Tom Emmer an extremist who will take Minnesota in the wrong direction.

On the other hand, save for it's star candidate Jesse Ventura, the IP has never had a strong slate of candidates or even a very strong governing ideology, with candidates all over the political spectrum. The 2006 governor's race had the IP candidate finishing a distant third at about 6 percent. And even if Horner were to win, he would have to face a legislature that is made up of Republicans and Democrats that will resent having this outsider as governor.

Which leads me to ask this question: why didn't Horner just run as Republican? Yes, with the current makeup of the state GOP he would not have won at the state party convention, but he could have challenged Emmer in the state primary which takes place in August. He could have made this a true fight, a battle for the soul of the GOP. Would it have been a losing battle? Who knows. But it would have been a honest battle, where Horner would have stood his ground and presented a kinder and gentler Republicanism and defend it against Emmer and his ilk.

In someways, Horner is already doing that. On his Facebook page, he is going after Emmer and the GOP. But it seems less than an honest fight, doing it from the confines of a minor party.

This brings up a bigger question: why is there no drive to reform the GOP or stand up and fight within the GOP? The ideologues in the party don't have a problem with standing and fighting, but moderates tend not fight. We tend to whine and moan, all amounting to very little.

On Friday, David Brooks wrote about the problem "Ben" a fictional voter who is a centrist looking for some hope. But when he looks to Washington and to so-called "centrists" he is found with few choices:

Once there was a group in the political center that would have understood Ben’s outrage. Moderates like Abraham Lincoln believed in the free labor ideology. Their entire governing system was built around encouraging labor and rewarding labor.

But these days, the political center is a feckless shell. It has no governing philosophy. Its paragons seem from the outside opportunistic, like Arlen Specter, or caught in some wishy-washy middle, like Blanche Lincoln. The right and left have organized, but the center hasn’t bothered to. The right and left have media outlets and think tanks, but the centrists are content to complain about polarization and go home. By their genteel passivity, moderates have ceded power to the extremes.

I think Brooks is spot-on. The center in America is weak. What was the center in the GOP is very weak, not willing to stay in the fight for the long haul and come up with policies and plans tailored to today.

My own cynical take is that moderates within the GOP are not willing to pay the cost in order to swing the party back towards the center-right. We might say "It's My Party, Too" but do we really mean it? Are we really ready to fight for our values and our place in the party? Or do we expect to be catered to, to have all the hard work of politics done for us? Are we a Republican only when it suits our purposes, or are we willing to say that we are Republicans because of the wonderous past we had standing up civil rights, political reform and individual liberty?

I wish Mr. Horner well and hope he does in well in November, even though I think history suggests he will not win. But I feel that he missed a chance to take part in a honest fight about what Republicans stand for.

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