Wednesday, April 28, 2010

There Are No Moderate Republicans in the Senate

(cross-posted at Dagblog)

The Senate Republicans folded on their filibuster today. This morning The Hill ran an article with this headline:

Republican centrists warn Reid’s tough tactics on reform bill could backfire

Now, at first glance, that article's writer, Alexander Bolton, looks like a fool. But his headline is absolutely accurate. A bunch of Senate "centrists" did tell him that. And Bolton obediently published their claims, twelve or so hours before his sources proved how utterly hollow those claims were. If Bolton is a fool for swallowing transparent spin, without examining its basic plausibility, then there are a lot of fools writing about Congressional politics these days. And the biggest lie he swallows has been swallowed by nearly the entire political press: the lie that there are any GOP centrists left.

There are no moderate Republicans in the Senate any more. There are Republican Senators who were once moderates. There are Republican Senators who might depend upon moderate voters in, say, Maine. There are even Republican Senators who might vote moderately if they weren't actually, you know, in the Senate. But it in actual world, every Republican Senator votes the same way, which means that they are all indistinguishable from Sam Brownback.

When the votes actually matter, Olympia Snowe votes like a hard-line conservative. So does Susan Collins. They're only moderates when nothing real is at stake. If you talk like a moderate but vote like a conservative, that means you actually are a conservative in the only way that matters. Because the votes get counted.

Believing in the mythical "moderate Senate Republicans" requires that the "moderates" not be held accountable for how they actually vote. They are allowed to obstruct legislation through relentless parliamentary maneuvers while complaining that the majority isn't "collegial" enough. Blocking debate on banking reform is acceptably "centrist" and "reasonable," but holding a vote during the dinner hour is unreasonably punitive. (No, seriously.) Lindsey Graham gets treated like a Profile In Courage by people who should know better because he's claimed that he would not filibuster one key piece of legislation, and thereby feels entitled to set the Democrat's legislative agenda, events in Arizona be damned. That Lindsey Graham votes to obstruct Senate business every other time is apparently not relevant to the question who's been cooperative enough.

Key to the myth of the Moderate Senate Republican is the idea that if the Democrats simply compromised with these imaginary people, everything would work out. Also, if the Democrats befriended some leprechauns, we could balance the budget with magical gold. But there are no compromises that would actually lead the non-existent moderates to break with their party whips. They will pretend that there are: they were spinning the "we'd-cooperate-if-we-were-indulged-more" story for Bolton the day before they publicly embarrassed him. But while they would be happy to receive further indulgences, they won't give anything back for them. They will only break with their party leadership when they're afraid of getting hurt at the polls. They are not susceptible to persuasion. They are only susceptible to pressure.

Of course, part of the myth of the Centrist Republican is that compromise is always just around the corner, like the gold at the end of the rainbow. They are always promising that it's just a little way off, if you'll keep following them through the woods, and always expressing disappointment that the Democrats gave up when they were almost there! Of course, the "moderates"will tell you that. They can only gain by telling you that. But there's no reason to trust them. Just ask Alexander Bolton.

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