Thursday, March 24, 2005

Slate's Obituary to Senate Moderates

This afternoon in Slate's semi-regular "assessment" column, Michael Crowley of The New Republic writes what amounts to a death notice for Republican moderates in the Senate. Calling Senators Chafee, Snowe, Collins and McCain the "Not-so-Fantastic Four," Crowley lays out a fairly convincing (and depressing) argument that following the elections last November, the moderates have lost much of their cachet, as well as their effectiveness.

Prior to the GOP's acquisition of a 55-45 majority in the Senate with this session of Congress, the "fearless foursome" could almost be counted on to serve as a centrist foil to the rightward lurches of the Party: Crowley cites their votes with the Democratic majority to include 'pay-as-you-go' in last year's budget bill, keep oil companies out of ANWR, and pass the 9/11 commission's proposed intelligence reforms. Now, however, the Republican leadership can afford to let the moderates slip away and vote with the Democratic minority (as they did last week on pay-go and ANWR). This greatly decreases the clout of the moderates in shaping legislation and keeping the party from stumbling rightward.

As I have discussed, the nuclear option would be bad for the Senate as a whole, and Republicans in particular (long term); Crowley adds another dimension, by noting that the nuclear option is "an affront to everything the moderates have tried to promote: bipartisanship, compromise, and a check on the right wing's excesses." A loss on this will prove the "ultimate defeat" to the moderates, he suggests. He's probably right. Thankfully, more than a few Republicans not normally thought of as moderate have expressed concerns about the risky maneuver, and there is still hope (at least for the moment) that cooler heads will prevail. When the time comes, however, the moderates will need to know they've got the country behind them. There can be no more shrinking back, but only charging forward.


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