Refusing to Look Left
E. J. Dionne points out
that as the American political center moves left, the Democrats are following it. It's a good piece -- now if only the national media as a whole would take Dionne's points to heart.
He also remarks on a consequence of this shift for Republicans -- one that hasn't received enough attention:
The most important sign that the center has shifted left (or, if you prefer, away from the right) is the behavior of Republican politicians who are thinking about their prospects beyond the Bush years.
Florida's Gov. Charlie Crist, who succeeded Jeb Bush and is governing as a Schwarzenegger-style Republican moderate, had an approval rating of 70 percent in a recent Quinnipiac poll. As Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune pointed out this week, Crist's score is "higher than the peak ratings for Jeb Bush, who was thought to be the model of popularity at the end of his eight years." Crist's politics reflect the center's drift.
In the Senate, it's Republicans up for reelection in 2008 who were among the first in their party to oppose George W. Bush's policies on Iraq. The contrast with the recent past could not be plainer: In 2002, Democrats fearful of losing reelection tried to minimize their differences with the president. Republicans in political trouble are now trying to highlight theirs.
There are two different trends at work here. One is simply the basic instinct of politicians to distance themselves from things that everyone hates (the Iraq war, George W. Bush). The other, which applies only in a smaller set of cases, is that a small number of Republican politicians have found that the key to popularity is to move leftward on a general level
It's remarkable that with the GOP in such crisis, the party's establishment refuses to learn anything from the examples provided by Schwarzenegger and Crist, who have demonstrated how to rehabilitate the unpopular Republican brand. This failure to adapt is undoubtedly a result of the comprehensive takeover of the party by the conservative movement over the last few decades. The GOP is run by a movement designed
to prevent the very adaptation that would allow the party to survive in the new context. To switch metaphors: having let the movement lash them to an ideological mast, Republicans now find themselves unable to escape a sinking ship.
Notably, the examples of success-through-moderation are large-state governors. I'm reminded again of Seymour Martin Lipset's analysis
of the GOP from 1956 -- before the Goldwater campaign launched the modern conservative movement. Lipset observed that control of the direction of the national party was contested between two main groupings: the governors of industrial states, who by political necessity tended to be moderate or even liberal, and members of Congress, who, representing smaller districts, were often much more conservative. In those days the governors generally managed to keep the upper hand. But the conservative movement of the 1960s and beyond tipped the balance in favor of the right-wing faction, who defined themselves by their revolt against everything the moderate governors -- symbolized by Nelson Rockefeller -- stood for.
It worked for a while. But these days, the ideological heirs of Rockefeller are a lot more in touch with the spirit of the times than are the reactionaries; yet the reactionaries still maintain a firm grip on the controls. Did the conservative movement work too well for its own party's good?
Labels: conservatives, Republicans