Tuesday, December 10, 2002

The Call of the Bull Moose-Matthew Yglesias makes this pitch for the moderate Republicans in the northeast to start their own party
I do wonder, though, what keeps northern moderates like Collins, Snowe, Chafee, Pataki, Giuliani, Romney, etc. in the southern-fried GOP. I can see why they don't want to cross the aisle and become Democrats, but why not just, well, pull a Strom Thurmond and start a regional party that would compete in the Northeast. It would hardly be worth it for the GOP to mount candidates against them, and America's single-member constituencies are ideal for this sort of regionalist appeal. Of course, anyone joining such a party would never get elected President, but none of these people are ever going to get elected president anyway. And they'd hold the balance-of-power in the House and Senate and be able to steer a course between both the Confederate nostalgia of the Republicans and the union-backed governmentophilia of the Democrats. I'd still (usually) vote for the Democratic candidate against my hypothetical third party, but politics would be more interesting and I think this strategy would definitely serve the interests of GOP moderates better than their current plan.
What would such a party stand for? First, let’s look at who would be the “target market” for the party and work from there. The swing voter that the party seeks is a secular-leaning middle-class voter. The voter might be a church-goer but isn’t overly religious; he isn’t fond of the modern cultural conservative. They are “old-school” in their morals (although they don’t always practice them) but don’t have the stomach or the desire to force that upon others. On the flip side, they don’t like a liberal anything-goes world-view to be installed or to go back to Ozzie and Harriet. They are egalitarian in that they believe in equal rights for women and minorities but aren’t fans of affirmative action. They’d side with football over pure equality in a Title IX fight and (a bit grudgingly) allow for male-only priests/pastors in churches who want it, but are equal-pay-for-equal-work and equal-opportunity feminists otherwise. They have no problems with black and Hispanics in general, but don’t want them to get special treatment. They have roughly equal disdain for rednecks and Afro-America race mongers. They’re heterosexist but not homophobic. They don’t want to see gays to be attacked or banned from working, but don’t like the idea of same-sex marriage and are queasy about giving homosexuality equal billing when teaching children about sexual issues. They don’t like big government but like the idea of a safety net, especially for the elderly. They have a vague understanding that big government slows things down, but they like the security and the do-gooder warm feeling that comes from having a solid program for helping the poor. They are pro-military but are cautious about using it. They know that a strong military is needed, but respect the lives of the people that are doing the fighting (on both sides) and want to be able to do this good work on a budget. They are law-and-order folks but keep half-an-eye on the police to keep them from becoming Big Brother. They have little to fear from the police as long as they don’t get too much of a lead-foot, so they’ll tend to side with the police in legal questions. They have little to hide from a snoopy government, but will oppose overly intrusive measures on a basis of old-fashion don’t-tread-on-me independence. They love America but don’t look down their nose at the rest of the world. They know that people are coming to America in much bigger numbers than they are leaving, a great piece of evidence of the US being the best place to pursue life, liberty and happiness. They’ll disagree with the people who bash America for all its faults even if they might agree with many of the left’s criticisms. They are fans of education and want the best for their kids; they’re open to suggestions in this area. They are supportive of public education, but aren’t wedded to it as the only option. They don’t want it used as an indoctrination tool of the left or of the right. They are sensitive to the environment but don’t want to bring the economy to a screeching halt in the process of protecting it. Going down this list, many of these aren’t that far from the Republican stance on most issues. They would like the Republicans on policing, on pro-American attitudes and on the military. They lean Democratic on the environment. Their gut attitude leans Republican on sexual morality, on education and on the size of government and taxes, but can be brought to the left if the issues are framed to favor the Democrats. What then would a Centrist Party platform be like? Sexual morality- be against same-sex marriage while outlawing any discrimination against sexual preference in non-religious employment. Emphasize being chaste before marriage in sex ed while also giving good contraceptive training. Abortion- The party might decide to agree to disagree on the issue and not have it in the platform. The swing voter is pro-restrictions on abortion but not in favor of an all-out ban. In theory, a Supreme Court decision allowing regulation of abortion would allow abortion law to move in their direction, away from the no-restrictions current law. However, some will be afraid of the law moving in a too restrictive manner. Education-An emphasis on learning the basics. Pilot programs for vouchers might be looked into, as would reforms that would reduce public school bureaucracy and get more teachers into the classroom. Tax credits for college, especially for students in technical fields, would be a plus. Bilingual education would be in a streamlined, get-the-kid-to-learn-English-quick format. Taxes-A long look at tax simplification, seeking to lower middle-class tax brackets by trimming various corporate and individual tax credits and making depreciation schedules a bit less generous. Crime and Policing-An emphasis on community policing and catching small problems before they become big ones (fixing broken windows theory). Environment- Emphasize on clean air and water, working on practical ways to cut pollution. ANWAR can stay pristine for now. The party would be open to tweaking the Endangered Species Act, but supportive of the basic concept of protecting species. Military/National Security- Status quo, but with an emphasis on creating a quick-reaction capability; being able to get troops to point A in a hurry. Missile defense will continue, but at a guarded pace to ensure against cost overruns. Serious reviews of airport security and other post-9/11 tightening in order to see if all the red tape is needed. Social Security/Elderly- A push for Medicare prescription coverage; either through insurance vouchers or by making it an integral part of Medicare, leaning towards the government-run option. The party would also back Social Security reform that would insure current retiree benefits while moving towards a partial privatization of the system. Welfare- solid work/study requirements coupled with aid for ex-welfare parent to help them transition out of welfare. This might mean extending Medicaid to some of the working poor. That platform would have the prospect of getting 40% of the vote. However, it that became the Republican platform, it would have the prospect of getting 70% of the vote. It’s not a supply-side platform and not a cultural-conservative platform, so it will be difficult for such a platform to get the Republican nomination. It doesn’t kowtow to any of the liberal power groups, so it will be difficult for such a platform to get the Democratic nomination. If I’m right in saying that it would get 40% of the vote, with the remaining 60% being evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, what is keeping such a party from forming? Both parties would adopt parts of the Centrist party platform in order to draw Centrist voters to them. Democrats could propose a tough-love poverty-fighting welfare program and tell the NEA to cool it on education reform. Republicans could show more of a green streak and think about Medicare prescription coverage a bit harder. However, on balance, the platform of the Centrist Party here that would be the preference of the swing voter is a moderate Republican platform; Centrist voters have to be scared off of the Republican side, typically by fear of an insufficient safety net, insufficient environmental protections or fear of an overly moralistic Religious Right. Parties tend to lean towards the center of political gravity in a region. There is a ongoing tug between nominating a centrist, who can bring in swing votes but will be a watered-down version of what the rank-and-file really wants, and nominating a “winger” who will do the things the activists like but will have a harder time winning swing voters. In a more secularized, less growth-oriented Northeast, the swing voter is a notch to the left of the national center, so the Democrats tend to be more liberal (for they can run someone they really like and still have a good shot of winning) and the Republicans tend to be less conservative. Republicans in the Northeast run on some version of the Centrist Party platform, for a standard-issue conservative platform won’t sell there. Should the centrist Republicans form their own party? On a national scale, such a party would split the GOP down the middle, resulting in a number of current Republican seats going to Democrats. For the party to be effective outside the Northeast, it would have to bring some DLC types on board as well to bring the moderate Democratic vote on board as well. Such a joint declaration of independence would be difficult to engineer. An independent but regional party would be problematic. Currently, there is a conservative/libertarian protest vote against many centrist Democrats; having to run as a Centrist Party candidate and go up against a conservative Republican that would get 10-15% as a protest vote would cause quite a few Centrists to lose to Democrats. That Centrist bloc would then be a swing vote in a tightly-controlled Congress; they would then negotiate with the Democrats and Republicans for chairmanships and compromises on the big issues of the day. A Centrist bloc in the Electoral College could be the swing vote in a tight election-picture 2000 with Florida going to Gore in a squeaker, but 20 Northeastern Centrist electors holding the balance of power; the could negotiate with both major-party candidates for cabinet posts or impose electoral gridlock until their needs are met. Would the loss of seats from having to fight a two-front war be worth the power that such a third party would hold? Good question. If they were to have some moderate Democrats join them, it would be a force to be reckoned with.

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