Today's contribution from op/ed columnist EJ Dionne in the Washington Post is called "The GOP's Shrinking Middle," and it's well worth a read.
Dionne, discussing the retirement of Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, writes on the shrinking cohort of liberal/moderate/progressive Republicans (he uses each of those terms) representing the party in Congress. "Boehlert's departure does not leave the House bereft of liberal Republicans," Dionne writes, "-- Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa is more liberal than Boehlert. But Leach, alas, is an outlier. The spotted owl is in good shape compared with liberal Republicans."
Continuing: "Why does the decline and fall of liberal Republicanism matter? After all, rationalizing the political system into a more conservative GOP and a more-or-less liberal Democratic Party makes the alternatives clearer to voters, who are offered, in Goldwater's famous phrase, 'a choice, not an echo.'
But it turns out that a Republican Party dominated by conservatives is no more coherent than the party that left room for progressives. The huge budget deficit is conservatism's Waterloo, testimony to its political failure. The conservatives love to cut taxes but can't square their lust for tax reduction with plausible spending cuts. Oh, yes, a group of House conservatives has a paper plan involving deep program cuts, but other conservatives know that these cuts will not pass, and shouldn't.
Paradoxically, because the liberal Republicans didn't pretend to hate government, they were better at fiscal responsibility. They were willing to match their desired spending levels with the taxes to pay for them. It didn't make for exciting, to-the-barricades politics. It merely produced good government."
I don't always (or even often) agree with Dionne, but I think he's come close to accurate on this point - centrists (of either party, or none at all) understand that tax cuts and spending hikes just don't work in tandem, and that fiscal sanity is an important component of budget management.
Dionne concludes this way: "I'll miss Boehlert and his optimistic moderation. Our politics worked better when a sufficiently large band of Republican moderates and liberals could take the edge off polarization and orient government toward problem-solving. But the liberal Republicans are gone. We have to deal with the GOP we have, not the GOP we wish still existed."
On this point, I'm afraid Dionne's right again, but that's not going to stop me from continuing to plug away at taking the party back to its traditional progressive, good-government roots. The stakes are to high for me to give up.
[Note: Also posted at TMV.]