Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 31, 2009

MODERATES.... Bruce Bartlett, who has a habit of writing brilliant emails that get published elsewhere, shared some very interesting thoughts with David Frum the other day on why he no longer wants anything to do with the Republican Party. I intend to talk about the piece in more detail later, but something James Joyner said in response to the item caught my eye.

Bartlett argued, persuasively, that the modern GOP no longer welcomes moderates into positions of party leadership. Joyner considers it a problem for both parties, not one.

It's true that moderates have largely been driven from the leadership ranks of the Republican Party. But they've also been driven from the leadership ranks of the Democratic Party. The combination of gerrymandered districts and the permanent campaign have incentivized polarization.

I disagree. The leadership ranks of the Democratic Party have plenty of moderates. Comparing the two, the centrist-count isn't even close.

In the Senate, the Majority Leader is Harry Reid, a pro-life moderate from a traditionally "red" state. While the Majority Whip is Dick Durbin, whom I consider to be a solid progressive, there are four Deputy Whips including two clear moderates: Tom Carper and Bill Nelson.

Elsewhere in the Senate, Max Baucus is the Senate Finance Committee chairman, and he's moderate. Kent Conrad is the Budget Committee Chairman, and he's a moderate. Hell, Dems made Joe Lieberman the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, even though he's not a Democrat and even after he spent the last couple of years attacking Barack Obama.

Admittedly, the House Democratic leadership is more reliably liberal, but it's worth emphasizing that when it came time to choose the House Majority Leader, the job went to Steny Hoyer, who is clearly not from the party's progressive wing.

For that matter, I'd argue that both Barack Obama and Joe Biden embrace a generally-progressive agenda, but neither are Dems I'd call "liberals."

I can appreciate the fact that a word like "moderate" is somewhat subjective. One person's centrist is another person's idea of an American Fidel Castro.

But I think a fair assessment of the parties' leadership shows a qualitative difference. Is there any way in the world the Senate Republican caucus would make a pro-choice moderate from a traditionally "blue" state the Senate Majority Leader? Of course not; the idea is almost laughable.

One party not only tolerates moderates, it elevates them to leadership posts. One party doesn't.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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Comments

This is just another example of the Republican rallying cry of 2009. "They do it TOO!!!" Everytime they are criticized you will here it. As if somehow the crap they pull is 'mainstream'.

Posted by: SYSPROG on August 31, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

So Joyner thinks Reid is a liberal extremist. I'm not sure where one starts with that.

Posted by: Jamie on August 31, 2009 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

A group of moderates are a group who are all exactly the same because they're all moderates, you see. Moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats are exactly the same. The Democratic party, you see, needs more Chuck Grassleys. It's really so simple that you don't even need to think about it, so don't think about it, okay?

Posted by: hells littlest angel on August 31, 2009 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

all those Democrats you name are "moderate" only in the peculiar spectrum of the Village.

there are maybe 3 liberal Senators, 20 or 30 reactionary right-wing Senators, and the rest are conservatives. what party umbrella they cluster under doesn't matter too much.

Joyner's just an example of the content-free chin-stroking condemnation of "extremists of both sides", which has served to move the midpoint of DC politics further and further to the right for the last several decades.

this is all pretty well known, isn't it?

Posted by: tatere on August 31, 2009 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

Whenever I see "moderate Democrat" I think of a Democrat who's beholden to corporate donors. Isn't that why the health care debate has been so impoverished and discouraging?

Posted by: clb72 on August 31, 2009 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Traditional GOPers who complain about the small tent their party has become always cloak those comments by doing the "a pox on both their houses" bit.

If you gave Mr. Joyner "truth serum" he'd probably admit that there is a difference and that the "equivalence" defense doesn't hold up.

Posted by: howie on August 31, 2009 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

I'd argue that both Barack Obama and Joe Biden embrace a generally-progressive agenda, but neither are Dems I'd call "liberals."

This is what is wrong with a large part of the Democratic Party.

Obama and Biden are on the left half of the Democratic Party. If you are part of the liberal half of the liberal 40% of the country then you are a LIBERAL.

If Steve Benen is either too blind, (my guess), or too stupid, (I doubt it very much), to see it then the reasonable liberals, like Steve Benen, have a far harder time influencing the moderates who are needed to pass legislation.

Posted by: neil wilson on August 31, 2009 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

@ tatere.

Posted by: pw on August 31, 2009 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Is there any way in the world the Senate Republican caucus would make a pro-choice moderate from a traditionally "blue" state the Senate Majority Leader?
The idea is laughable because what you described almost doesn't exist. Specter was one of the last, I think the two Senators from Maine are the only others who fit the description.

Posted by: SP on August 31, 2009 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's useful to make a distinction between an economic political spectrum and a cultural political spectrum. Let's say, economically, we define the "far right" as some sort of laissez-faire ownership society and the "far left" as some sort of socialist or communist society. Given this, it seems that all mainstream political discourse, and virtually all elected officials, accepts the basic assumption that socialism is unthinkable, while markets, though occasionally harsh, have an inherent tendency toward fairness and social utility. Even though Hollywood is supposedly filled with liberals and communists, ask yourself when was the last time you saw a movie that was pro-socialism. This observation seems to suggest that, economically speaking, the views of the "left" are virtually completely absent from our debate, while those of the "right" are practically considered natural law.

Posted by: Jason on August 31, 2009 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

What a bunch of shit! Excellent analysis, dumbass!

The Republicans elevated their "moderate" to the highest level - presidential candidate - and that was a bust.

And Obama is a moderate???

Probably the worst part of the post is the holier than thou attitude that liberals tend to have.

Posted by: Bill on August 31, 2009 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

And what were McCain's moderate positions, Bill?

I know - he's probably gone.

Posted by: Old School on August 31, 2009 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

I find it amazing to try and find a moderate Republican in the Senate.

Snowe and Collins might count and maybe Specter did.

Who is next? It seems that a rock ribbed conservative like Dick Lugar might be one of the most 'moderate' members of the Republican Senate.

I know you all complain about Bayh being a moderate or being a conservative but the idea that BOTH Senators from Indiana should be considered moderates is a joke.

If you rank the Senators in the Republican Party you end up with 35, or even 38, people with almost perfect right wing voting records. I suppose there are also 35 or 38 Democrats with almost perfect left wing voting records. The difference is the rest of the Republican Party consists of a handful of Senators while the Democrats have at least 20 who are not solid left wing.

Posted by: neil wilson on August 31, 2009 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

joyner/bartlett: just bullshit asshole repugnants snapping at each other like chihuahuas.

this is a false issue simply because the distinction should be made:

corporate vs progressive, not liberal vs conservative... there's no rubber nor road in the lib vs con dichotomy.

(that's also why neil wilson's little aneurysm is all for nought...)

Posted by: neill on August 31, 2009 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

As others have said on this thread, one of the most powerful rationalizations the radical right has for justifying its own radicalism is this insane notion that they represent nothing more than "politics as usual." Extremists need extremists on the other side to justify their own extremism. That is why far right Bill O'Reilly and others at FOX are constantly inveighing against the "far left."

Yes, there will be some superficial similarities between what Democrats may have done in the past and what the radical Republicans are doing today. But a difference in degree is often a difference in kind.

The long time Congressional scholar Norm Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, for example, notes that when Democrats controlled Congress they often did make life miserable for the minority Republicans, treating them as second class citizens and not involving them fully in law-making. But when Gingrich-led Southern Republican reactionaries captured Congress in 1994 they got back at their Democrat tormentors by essentially trying to build a one-party state. Centuries' old Congressional traditions and mores went out the window as these Southern radicals sought to create a monopoly of power inside a constitutional system that was originally built on the idea of checks and balances and the protection of minority rights. Not for nothing did Ornstein call his book on this era of Republican Congressional misrule, "The Broken Branch."

It's time we stopped mouthing these lazy falsehood that "both sides do it equally" and "both are equally to blame" because it's just not true. Spreading the blame equally is just an excuse not to think, and until we become more observant and discriminating we will never recognize just how radical the GOP has become.

Posted by: Ted Frier on August 31, 2009 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Bill Nelson a moderate? I would bet he's in the middle of the GOP side of the aisle with his voting record. He's no moderate.

Posted by: Stetson Kennedy on August 31, 2009 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

"One party not only tolerates moderates, it elevates them to leadership posts. One party doesn't."

And we all know that the party that tolerates moderates is the republican party. All of the republican leadership in the house and senate are of the liberal side of moderate! With the exception of Ben Nelson, obviously all of the democrat leadership is from the far left wing of their party!

It is quite obvious that Steve Benen's blind loyalty to the democrat party colors his perceptions.

Bill is correct about the holier than thou attitude of liberals. This attitude is especially troublesome when everyone knows that democrats are anti-Christ and only republicans are true believers in the word of our Lord!

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on August 31, 2009 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

"Who is next? It seems that a rock-ribbed conservtative like Dick Lugar might be one of the most 'moderate' members of the Republican Senate."

Sadly, I think we're already there. Except for Snowe and maybe Collins, a "moderate" in the GOP caucus means somewhat like Lugar or George Voinovich, a conservative who actually acts like a reasonable human being and not a right wing lunatic like DeMint or Inhofe. And sadly, their number is dwindling as well (Voinovich is getting the f__k out of there when the getting's good).

Posted by: gf120581 on August 31, 2009 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Bill Nelson a moderate? I would bet he's in the middle of the GOP side of the aisle with his voting record. He's no moderate.

Er, no. Even Ben Nelson is to the left of every Republican I believe, with the possible exception of Snowe, and he is considerable more conservative than Bill Nelson.

Posted by: John on August 31, 2009 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

As long as the Blue Dog Caucus lives Bartlett is talking through some orifice other than his mouth. Even if the leadership was entirely off on the left fringe, they still don't exercise control of the right wing of their party the way that the Republican's exercise control over their left wing. Pelosi and Reid and their lieutenants still have to compromise with a wing of their party that is already further right than the last remaining GOP moderate, Olympia Snowe.

The problem is that the GOP and the wacko right has been enormously successful in painting Clinton and now Obama as radical left wingers when both are incredibly centrist and moderate. The right wing has Rush Limbaugh and to find anyone further out of the mainstream on the left you would probably have to go looking at something like Ward Churchill, who has zero credibility in the Democratic Party while Limbaugh is the de facto leader of the GOP.

Come on Bruce, get with the program, if you are going to leave the GOP behind you will have to start living the reality based world.

Posted by: majun on August 31, 2009 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

"Bill Nelson a moderate? I would bet he's in the middle of the GOP side of the aisle with his voting record. He's no moderate."

Nelson is FAR, FAR to the left of Collins and Snowe and can't even see the rest of the Republican Party.

Posted by: neil wilson on August 31, 2009 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK
Bill Nelson a moderate? I would bet he's in the middle of the GOP side of the aisle with his voting record. He's no moderate.

Not even close, according to voteview.org (a link I got from Krugman), Nelson has a voting record more liberal than that of 23 other Democratic Senators (and all the Republicans).

In fact, there's a clean split between the parties in the current Senate, with all Democrats showing up to the left of the leftmost Republican. (Even Arlen Specter, who, interestingly, has a more liberal voting record than 14 other Democrats. In the last Congress he was only the 5th most liberal Republican.)

Posted by: noncarborundum on August 31, 2009 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

President Obama is a MODERATE??

Joe Biden???

Harry Reid???

When does the laughter die down????

Posted by: John C on August 31, 2009 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

As soon as we're finished laughing at the stupidity of your post, John.

Posted by: PaulB on August 31, 2009 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

Joyner is an idiot or propagandist. The Blue Dogs are so right-kissing they hardly count as Democrats.

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on August 31, 2009 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

You forget that in NewSpeak, "moderate" means less conservative than Ghenghis Kahn.

The middle of the political spectrum, formerly called "moderate," is now "liberal" and the formerly liberal wing of the spectrum is "communist," "marxist" or "socialist," depending on which ReThuglican is talking and when.

Posted by: Cal Gal on August 31, 2009 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

Reid is a moderate? Baucus, who has been helping to sabotage health-care reform for the past six months, is a moderate? Kent Conrad is a moderate? Heck, no. They're conservatives. They're not bugf*ck wingnut crazy, which puts them about the middle of the current able-to-attract-piles-of-money political spectrum. But that's why our country is in the disastrous condition it's in, and doesn't make them moderates.

You know who's a moderate? Paul Krugman. He calls himself a liberal, but his beliefs (as appropriate for a market-believing economist) are at the rightward edge of what can actually be called liberal, and in pretty much any other country in the industrialized world he'd be a center-right columnist.

Posted by: paul on August 31, 2009 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

So Bill seems to admit there was only one moderate in the ReThuglican Party to begin with.

Posted by: Sarah Barracuda on August 31, 2009 at 9:13 PM | PERMALINK

"All of the republican leadership in the house and senate are of the liberal side of moderate!"

It is to laugh. Just proves my point. John Boner is on the LIBERAL side of MODERATE? ROTFLMAO

Mitch McConnell? Eric Cantor?

whooohaaaa

Posted by: Cal Gal on August 31, 2009 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

"Admittedly, the House Democratic leadership is more reliably liberal, but it's worth emphasizing that when it came time to choose the House Majority Leader, the job went to Steny Hoyer, who is clearly not from the party's progressive wing."

Hoyer has no core ideology outside of asking the Speaker what she requires as to the flavor of her latte or capucino.

Steny is where he is for precisely one reason:
Congressman Murthamoff is as dirty as Jack Abramoff.

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