Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Goodbye Moderates

I worry when it looks like moderates are getting mowed down. There is something alarming when political parties cannot hold a substantial presence in the middle of the political spectrum. I see the obvious problem with this though, if all political parties are somewhere in the middle they tend to sell out their principles, infuriating their strongest supporters.

Periodically political parties undergo “purges”. I’m not sure how much I like the term purge when describing voter and party anger in real democracies when the origins are much more sinister. Regardless, these events occur. The squishy, compromising middle of a political party gets the sights levelled on it and they start to vanish.

I believe it might be fair to say, that in a way, the Republican Party is undergoing a purge. Political veterans that trace the beginning to the election of President Obama are being short-sighted. The last moderate Republican President was George H.W. Bush. Ever since he lost to Bill Clinton in 1992 the Republicans have been moving right, sometimes steadily and other times lurching. This year is a period of lurching. Since 1992 the Republican controlled Congress in 1994 was much more conservative, and continued to be so socially, which culminated in the election of evangelical President George W. Bush.

I think the principal sign of this transformation has been the career of Senator John McCain. In 2000 when he ran for president he was very much a moderate Republican and in the early Bush years he was seen as a centrist, and in fact led a group of centrist Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.

This ended in the lead up to the 2008 presidential race when he started to move hard to the right. He adopted virtually all of Bush’s and the conservatives planks as his own, despite being a leader on some issues, which I’ll return to. 2010 saw McCain threatened with a primary challenge from his right. Being faced with conservative opposition McCain went hard right.

The true symbol of this is immigration reform. McCain used to be a major leader on immigration reform, and sponsored a bill with Ted Kennedy to make sense of America’s failed policies. In 2010 he vowed not to move to make any compromise at all on immigration. Oh the times they are a changin’.

I’m sure most people have no idea who Mike Castle is. Mr. Castle was the Republican favourite to win the nomination for the Senate seat in Delaware. He was a nine term congressman (that’s 18 years in the House of Representatives), and before that he served two years as Delaware’s Governor. So, when Castle said he wanted to run people who voted for Castle for decades threw their support behind him. Many believe in a year good for Republicans like this, Castle was a shoe-in even in bluish Delaware.

But that’s not going to happen. Castle lost the nomination to a conservative “Tea Party” candidate named Christine O’Donnell, who has no experience in government and a questionable past. Castle was a moderate, would have made a great Senator. O’Donnell if she wins... well, I don’t have much hope.

It’s one thing to turf moderates, but to get rid of the experienced, savvy politicians... that seems reckless.

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