Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Problem with (Contemporary) Moderates

Most of the media's talk during the past few weeks has concentrated on the problem with partisanship in America. However, I tend to think that it is not the partisans in the senate, but rather the so-called centrists who are doing more damage to American democracy.

Senators who are most frequently praised for bipartisan courage are the ladies from Maine, Arlen Specter (until his recent switch) and Bill Nelson. But since when have they cast a vote that they honestly thought would endanger their chances of reelection with their constituencies?

True, Bill Nelson's poll numbers have sharply declined since he sold his vote to Obamacare, but the Nebraska senator did try very hard to ensure that this would not happen--and, therein, is the problem: the centrist senators cast their votes, at least on the most controversial legislation, through a process of institutionalized bribery.

Olympia Snowe, for example, can sell her vote to the Republicans in exchange for a naval base remaining open or to the Democrats for priority high way work on the routes leading to Portland, but this is a sort of centrism that profiteers off partisanship. Were the senate not in veto-gridlock, there would be no space for this sort of "moderation".

This is not to say that there cannot be moderates with guiding principles. There have been. Senators Moynihan and D'Amato and Governors Casey and (Mitt) Romney all took positions that were somestimes more conservative or liberal than the mainstream of their party or in their state. But they were principled. Regardless of what one thinks of the rightness or wrongness of the positions they took, one could rest assured that these positions had their origin in these men's conscience, not their self-ambition for reelection.