Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The End of Moderate Republicanism

The news is still developing that Senator Specter (R-Pa) has decided to switch parties and become a Democrat, thereby giving the Democrats a filibuster proof majority in the Senate of 60 (assuming Al Franken wins in Minnesota, which is highly probable), but my first reaction when I saw the headline was to go outside and listen for church bells tolling the official end of moderate Republicanism.

To put Senator Specter's decision in some context: Specter's switch is first and foremost a shrewd politicial calculation, cutting off a primary challenge from former Rep. Pat Tomney, who has been outflanking Specter on the right, and dramatically improving Specter's prospects for reelection in the State. Specter's decision also earns him the title of kingmaker since he just became the Most Important Voter in the Senate.

I'm thrilled at what this could mean for the Democrats' ability to pursue a progressive reform agenda. Nevertheless, a part of me can't help but feel sad at the passing of an era when moderate Republicans helped to shape their party's agenda. With Specter's decision, conservative Republicans have officially solidified their grip controlling the GOP's destiny. Their rise to dominance was enabled in part by moderates, like Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn), losing elections to Democrats as the American public became disillusioned with the Republican party. And, prior to today, signs of moderate Republicans' diminishing role have become increasingly evident. In Virginia, for example, conservative Jim Gilmore was selected to make an exercise-in-futility run for the Senate against Mark Warner instead of moderate Tom Davis, even though Davis had a much greater chance of turning the election competitive. Michael Steele's tenure as the national chairman of the GOP has also been defined by him cowing to the party's conservative base, instead of a pursuit of his more moderate instincts to expand the GOP's ideology and membership base.

I grew up benefiting from one moderate Republican in particular. Congresswoman Connie Morella was my Congresswoman from the time I was in 5th grade until she lost to Chris Van Hollen when I was in college, and I volunteered on her campaigns and interned in her office through high school. Though I joined the Democratic party when I registered to vote, and continue to actively support the Democratic party's platform, Connie's focus on superb constituency services, her championing of women's rights and other progressive social issues, and her determination - against the odds of both her Democratic constituency and the members of her own party - to stick to her principles, reflected the trademark positions of moderate Republicans like her, and were the reasons she won election after election.

Senator Specter represented perhaps the last standard bearer of the once impressive and influential group of moderate Republican legislators and policy makers. His decision today, and its impact on the Democratic majority, will hopefully result in the passage of major health care reform and a regulatory overhaul to our ailing financial system. But it still bears mention that today, an era has passed.


At 4/29/2009 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I miss Connie Morella! It was pretty wrong what the party did to squeeze her out, due to the fact that they wanted a voting majority in the house.

At 11/16/2009 3:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 12/22/2009 4:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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