Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Moving the Center

This is the standard line from the left - "The country hasn't moved, it's the Republicans who moved to the right." It is part of this year's campaign Democratic election strategy. It is an attempt to capitalize on the Tea Party movement. Today's liberals want a return to the moderates of the Bush years. The funny thing is that they had the same complaint during the Bush years. The only difference was that back then it was the social conservatives who moved the party.

This complaint was typified by Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and head of the EPA for several years under George W. Bush. In 2006, she wrote a book, It's My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America. Publisher's Weekly says,

It's her party and she'll cry if she wants to. Former EPA Chief and New Jersey governor Whitman laments the rightward shift in the Republican party, concerned that it "will now move so far to the right that it ends up alienating centrist voters and marginalizing itself." In her view, the aggressive tactics of the "social fundamentalists," to whom "the concept of choice...is anathema," are to blame. Only if centrists transform themselves into "radical moderates-people ready to fight for what they believe even if it makes waves in the party," can the party restore its equilibrium. Whitman explores her own GOP heritage and her adventures and misadventures with hot button issues like abortion, stem cell research, race, the environment and women's rights, reinforcing the party's distinguished record. For example, she points out that Republicans ensured passage of the Civil Rights Act and created the Clean Air Act. If moderates would only stand up for themselves, she contends, the party platform could return to the essential issues-"fiscal restraint, reasonable and open discussion of social issues, environmental policies that promote a balanced approach to environmental protection, and a foreign policy that is engaged with the rest of the world." While the writing is straightforward and the anecdotes interesting, the account drifts from its core theme, culminating in a plea to visit a grassroots Web site and a generic suggestion for "issues-oriented campaigns." Nowhere does Whitman identify who these social fundamentalists are, what they want or why they have proven so powerful in today's electoral environment despite being outnumbered. Though this book succeeds as an overview of the Republican party's accomplishments, it's a less than adequate battle plan for moderate Republications looking to attain their past glory.

Much of what Whitman prescribed has happened with the Tea Parties. The new emphasis is on limited government and fiscal restraint. No one is talking much about stem cells or abortion. So, what was described as a move to the center in 2006 is now a shift to the far right.

During the 2008 campaign, Democrats were open, at least in private, about political shifts. They wanted to shift the country so far to the left that the Republicans would either have to follow or be marginalized. It worked on the short-term. John McCain was the party's most liberal candidate since Nixon. He had his own proposals for health care and cap and trade. He made it clear that he would govern to the right of Obama but to the left of Bush.

In the meantime, if you look at what the Democrats passed during the last two years compared to what they did when they held Congress and the White House from 2001-2003, there can be no doubt that they are far more radical than 20 years ago.

It didn't take long before a significant portion of the country objected to this shift. A few bail-outs and several trillion dollars in new spending had people protesting in the street. Most of these protesters would be satisfied with a return to the days of Clinton's second term.

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