Simon Williamson

Goodbye, moderates

2012-04-19 07:49

Simon Williamson

The last two years have seen one of the most divisive sessions of the United States’ congress in modern history due to a severe lack of compromise. The few points that have seen at least some consensus have been prompted by an upcoming government shutdown or deadline. This has, unsurprisingly, resulted in congress’ approval rating hanging between 4% and 13%, depending on which polls you follow. And the problem is about to get worse. Allow me to explain.
 
The two parties, Republicans and Democrats, have often found ways to compromise due to two groups of politicians: blue dog Democrats and moderate Republicans.
 
Blue dog Democrats are, in a nutshell, conservative Democrats. These folks are often socially liberal (at least to a point) but fiscally conservative. Moderate Republicans are self-explanatory. These groups are key to passing controversial legislation, and counter-balancing the extremes of their own party. Their impact is about to be smashed up. Congress, come the end of the year, will most likely become even more discordant.
 
In November when the country goes to the polls, this moderate bunch of legislators is going to take a hammering. Six moderate senators are not seeking re-election: Olympia Snowe of Maine, Kay Baily Hutchison of Texas, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jim Webb of Virginia. Their reasons vary from being septuagenarians, to admitting that Congress isn’t working very well. In fact, Olympia Snowe wrote in the Washington Post: “One difficulty in making the Senate work the way it was intended is that America’s electorate is increasingly divided into red and blue [Republican and Democrat states, respectively] states, with lawmakers representing just one colour or the other.”
 
Snowe knows what she is talking about: She and Kay Bailey Hutchison voted against a process that would have blocked Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Snowe voted against the Blunt Amendment, which was introduced in response to the Obama administration’s attempt to enforce religiously affiliated institutions to provide contraception to employees under their healthcare plans. She also voted for new regulation of financial institutions.
 
These six departures from the Senate are going to be complimented by a blue dogs culling in the other chamber of government, the House of Representatives. According to Politico, there were 54 blue dogs before the 2012 mid-term elections in which the Democrats received a resounding clobbering and lost their majority in the House of Representatives. There are now 26 blue dogs. And of those 26, five are retiring, and half are not the favourites to win the contest for their seat.
 
It’s not easy being a politician with an opinion that doesn’t gel with the party’s 100% of the time – in fact it’s a rather noble cause. Leadership positions and seniority of any sort is very reluctantly shared. Hardcore idealists resent those who seemingly relate to those on the other side of the aisle. Raising funding for re-election campaigns is also not easy, as donors tend to favour predictable liberals or conservatives. Maine’s other senator, another moderate Republican Susan Collins told Rollcall.com in March, “We [moderates] used to be applauded for bringing people together to actually solve problems. Now we tend to be criticised by both sides. But that’s not unique to the Republican caucus. Believe me, talking to my friends in the Democratic caucus, they hear the same kinds of criticism.” Moderates are called "sell-outs", "radicals", their opposition party's name, and unsurprisingly it all comes when they vote their own way, and don’t fall into party lines.
 
These congressmen and women are key to repairing the USA’s pretty buggered congress. While I am all for exerting earned authority, constant renewing of budgets for a few months at a time is playing havoc with investors, predictability and recipients of government money. You know, like everyone employed by the government – at any level.
 
These people whose brains manage to work independently of their party’s diktat should be admired. Being able to look at a situation wholly should be encouraged. Knowingly taking a pasting from colleagues for a moral or principled decision should be admired. It’s what we teach children for goodness’ sake.
 
Americans are in for a long two years if the current partisanship is entrenched even further.
 

Simon Williamson is a freelance writer.

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Read more on:    simon williamson  |  us  |  us elections 2012
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