The downward spiral of the Republican Party is similar to previous lurches in American political history. In most cases, political parties that run too far from the political center get punished at the polls, go through a period of painful political introspection, and trudge back to the political center where their political recovery takes place.
Republicans have gone through it. Democrats have too. British Tories and Labourites have done their stints. Like Henry II paying penance for Beckett, they have undergone their lashings and, properly chastened, crept back to power.
Republicans have, since Ronald Reagan, avoided that process. Over the last quarter century, defeats have been larger, and successes smaller, as the tides of political fortune have come and gone. When economic winds grow to political hurricane force, the slow political tides become less apparent. But they are still there. And so we speculate here about the declining fortunes of the GOP. Races that should have been won decisively are taken narrowly. Races that should have been won narrowly are lost.
At the source is technology. The Republican base is insulated from political reality. The GOP emulates Shakespearean drama. Hamlet's Ophelia, incapable of her own distress, drowns without knowing she is drowning. And the Republican Party puts on stage makeup and follows suit. Purge follows purge as the party of Lincoln rushes toward the Old Confederacy.
One persistent question involves a sort of political symmetry. Are Democrats not subject to the same technology? Why would they be immune to the same political temptations?
We have speculated. No one answer is quite satisfying. Perhaps an accident of history, or a series of accidents, have delayed a similar pattern. The election of centrist Bill Clinton, terrorist attacks and a subsequent rallying around President Bush, the election of centrist Barack Obama, may have combined over time to push the inevitable down the road. Where Republicans go, Democrats will eventually follow, although on the other side of that wide, wide ideological road.
Newsweek columnist John Avlon acknowledges that the Republican Party has gone off the deep end with it's new bloodsport, RINO hunting. Long time arch-conservatives are attacked from the right for insufficient extremism.
But he detects a similar trend among Democrats. He finds two examples to prove his thesis, Pennsylvania Representatives Jason Altmire and Tim Holden, both Democrats who lost in primaries.
In the case of Altmire, a vote against health care reforms, which matching his constituent’s views, was nonetheless considered a hanging offense by his fellow party member. In the northeastern stretch of the state, the unions backed a trial lawyer with predictable sympathies, Matt Cartwright, over 20-year centrist incumbent Tim Holden. The decisive factor in ousting both Democrats was the financial and organizational strength of the unions, who have been as empowered as corporations by Citizens United—but with considerably less outrage on the left.
He points to the shrinking number of conservative blue-dog Democrats to hammer the point home.
Here's the problem. John Avlon is performing a bit of cherry picking. And the cherries he is picking are not the sort a discerning cherry picker would want. Neither Jason Altmire nor Tim Holden could be reasonably considered moderate. Yes, both opposed Obamacare, and did their best to block it. But that was not the only departure from Democratic orthodoxy of either representative. Both were also in open league with climate deniers.
Mr. Avalon mentions Jason Altmire's opposition to health care reform as "matching his constituent’s (sic) views..." A greater contributor to his defeat than any organized group of working people was the fact that he was re-districted out of office. He was not defeated by some insurgent. He ran against another Congressional Representative, Mark Critz.
Tim Holden was also largely the victim of redistricting. He did not run against another incumbent but he did find his district substantially changed. Large areas in 4 counties that he had represented since 2003 were suddenly gone, replaced with more urban, more liberal centers. His conservative stands were less popular with his very new constituents than with Mr. Avalon.
These are not perfect examples of a DINO hunt, but they are the best available to Mr. Avalon.
Indeed they are the only examples of Democratic opponents of Obamacare that lost their seats in a Democratic primary. Of 34 other Democrats who voted against health care reform, none lost renomination. None. Zero. These two were the very first. Instead, blue dog Democrats found their numbers reduced in the 2010 tea party surge.
To be fair, Mr. Avalon describes the party polarization as "asymmetrical." He devotes some journalistic effort to today's anticipated take down of conservative stalwart Senator Dick Lugar in the Indiana Republican primary. Senator Lugar is now considered insufficiently conservative. John Avalon describes the Republican RINO hunt as considerably advanced when compared with the more subdued hunting spree among Democrats for DINOs. "Democrats are amateurs compared to Republicans when it comes to taking down their own..."
We can learn something about a trend from this article. It touches only peripherally on politics. It is that modern journalism no longer draws conclusions from a dispassionate examination of facts. The search for truth has been supplanted. Balance is the new holy grail. Square facts can be always be pounded into round conclusions to reach that venerable standard.
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