Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Trouble With Moderates

The major trouble with moderates is that - well - they're moderate. This article, by Peter Slevin, in the February 2, 2006 Washington Post describes former senator and Episcopal priest Jack Danforth's very laudable goal for moderate Republicans to take back their party from the religious right.

However, as this letter to the editor, by Jay Sidebotham, in today's Washington Post questions, where was Danforth, while he was in the Senate, when he had a chance to vote against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas? His was one of the votes that led to the victory of the same right wing Christianist Republican conservatives that he now wants to take on. The Thomas victory was pivotal to the beginning of the Supreme Court's swing right, which is now nearing completion with the confirmations of Roberts and Alito.

And once again, Danforth's moderate Republican colleagues voted for confirmation. It's true that they probably couldn't have stopped either of those nominees from being confirmed, but they should have stood with fellow centrists across the aisle, on the Democratic side, and voted their conscience. Indeed, they should have voted to represent the many pro-choice moderate citizens in their home states who put them in office precisely because they campaigned as pro-choice moderates. Some of these senators had more conservative challengers in their primaries and won office precisely because they weren't that far to the right.

You can't trust Republican moderates when the chips are down. They pick party discipline and party loyalty over loyalty to their constituents, their nation and their own conscience every time.

That's why Democrats need to concentrate on defeating the Northeastern block of Republican moderates more than they need to indulge in party feuds as they are doing in Connecticut. Democratic senatorial challenger Ned Lamont may be a liberal's dream. But he probably won't defeat Joe Lieberman, who has over an 80 percent COPE rating (means he votes pro-labor and liberal that percent of the time). His one egregious mistake (and it is egregious) is that he is pro-Iraqi war. But he voted against both Roberts and Alito. Never mind that he also voted for cloture. So did most Democrats. He voted with the Democratic leadership, unlike Ben Nelson or Robert Byrd both of whom voted for confirmation of Roberts and Alito. (But those two were voting their consciences and their constituents knew where they stood when they elected them. So, while I disagree with their votes, at least, I don't feel betrayed by them. I sorta knew that's what they'd do.)

However, voting for cloture was very different from voting for confirmation. There was simply nothing to be gained at that point for a Democrat to block the nominees from a straight up or down vote. The issue wasn't resonating with the public. Democrats would have risked looking like obstructionists if they had won the vote against cloture and been able to fillibuster.

But if a moderate, pro-choice Republican had risen to the occasion and made it bi-partisan, then Democrats could have jumped on the bandwagon. But they didn't. Not even Lincoln Chafee, who, at least, did vote against the Alito confirmation - the only Republican to do so.

So, if you want to be mad, be mad at Republicans who claim to be centrists in good times and then let you down. If anybody is going to break the stranglehold of the Republican right, it's going to be Democrats, not Republican moderates, no matter how well-intentioned St. Jack Danforth is. Because, even he wouldn't vote against his own party back when it counted.

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