Myth of the Moderate Republican

From Harold Meyerson's Op-Ed piece in today's Washington Post:

Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, is seeking reelection in his heavily Democratic state by insisting he's not really a Republican, or at least not part of the gang responsible for the decade's debacles. He didn't even vote for George W. Bush in 2004, he protests. He cast his vote for George H.W. Bush -- a kinder, gentler, more prudent, less strident Republican.

Big deal.

It matters not a damn whom Lincoln Chafee chose to support for president. His vote was one of roughly 435,000 cast in Rhode Island in the 2004 presidential election, and roughly 122 million cast nationwide. The election in which his vote did matter was that for majority leader of the Senate. There, he was one of just 100 electors, in a Senate nearly evenly divided. After this November's elections, control of the Senate may well hang by a single vote.
Mr. Meyerson is exactly right. The vote for Majority Leader is the most important vote any Senator will make because it will determine every other vote the Senator will make while in office. A two party system and a non-parliamentary system have left us in a situation where our democracy, particularly in the House and Senate, is set up so that 50% +1 has political power far greater than numbers justify. Having the majority (and with it committee chairs) allows a party to control the conversation. It allows the majority party to set the schedule, the agenda, and the pace. It allows the majority to protect members from votes that would be unpopular at home. (Read: Democrats in Red States)

Mr. Meyerson's point, that voting for any candidate that would hand over this power to the extremist wing of the Republican Party is foolish if you are looking for a candidate to moderate the course in Washington, is one to which many voters should pay attention. It illuminates the fact that national politics isn't about picking the candidate that you 'like' better but about picking the candidate that you think will have the impact you want in Washington.

The idea also works in reverse.

Though I haven't heard much of it lately, the Liberal Blogosphere has always rumbled about voting out Dems that cross party lines to vote with Republicans. There are calls to stop supporting candidate X because he/she voted this way on a certain bill. "Vote a third party to get 'turncoat X' out of congress!"

This is, of course, foolish.

While candidate X may vote for an odious bill once in a while, he/she will certainly NOT vote for a Republican for Majority Leader. Withdrawing our support from Democrat X may well result in Republican Y getting elected. You've now gone from a congressperson that voted with Republicans 5% of the time to one that votes with Republicans 100% of the time. Where's the victory in that?

I understand the arguments about presenting a party of strong ideals, principals that won't be compromised, and candidates willing to take a stand for what they believe in. This is important. But if expecting absolute, lock-step, party-line voting is going to cost Dems a seat, is it worth it?

Like all things, this is a nuanced subject. There can be no set rule about how much compromise is too much compromise. No number of votes or number of speeches demonizing Dems and lionizing Republicans signifies the tipping point of a Dem becoming a detriment to the party. (cough, cough, Joe Lieberman, cough) When those Democrats can be replaced in a primary with a Democrat with a good chance of winning the election, we should not hesitate to jump on the opportunity.

All I'm saying is that getting Democrats in Congressional Seats is the most important thing we can be doing right now.

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