Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Many have bemoaned the near-extinction of the political species known as the moderate Republican. Once thriving in cold habitats, particularly New England, socially liberal but fiscally conservative Republicans were gradually displaced by Democrats. The loss of these bridge-builders has left the Republican Party largely in the hands of the bridge-burners, and to the detriment of America.
I've missed the moderate Republicans, but the recent gang warfare over health care reform has aroused second thoughts. Maine's Sen. Olympia Snowe is supposed to be one of the last of the breed, but exactly what was the point of her?
Snowe was perfectly placed to insist on a more fiscally stable reform in return for her support. She possessed the 60th Senate vote needed to move the legislation forward. Instead, she stood aside, empowering Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman to force the Democratic leadership to shovel more taxpayer dollars into insurance industry pockets. The end result was legislation that would probably pass anyway but at unnecessarily higher cost.
Meanwhile, Maine's other so-called moderate Republican senator, Susan Collins, was less than useless. Her main contribution was to stand behind the media-enveloped Lieberman to get her mug in the photos.
Back in October, when Snowe seemed interested in seeing something done, she was very happy to soak up the bipartisan love. Polls out of Maine showed her more popular among Democrats and independents than among Republicans. She had the sort of coalition one needs to win in Maine, where only 27 percent of the voters are registered Republicans.
In the end, Snowe went with the party rather than the people. Polls show Mainers overwhelming in support of the health care reforms. Over 57 percent back the public option, the supposedly controversial government-run health care plan. (As Snowe was playing footsie with the public option, she simultaneously pushed a bill that would have her constituents rely on the Canadian government for cheaper prescription drugs.)
The excuse that splintered the final straw was Snowe's contention that she resented being rushed into health care reform. Oh, please.
Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the very last Democratic holdout. He quietly got party leaders to tighten the language covering abortion and arrange some goodies for the folks back home.
The legislation Nelson eventually agreed on wasn't perfect for him, either, and his Nebraska constituents are a heck of a lot more conservative than Snowe's. Nelson could have done plenty of grandstanding before the cameras on what he hated about the bill, but he didn't. My guess is that many poor and middle-class Nebraskans are looking forward to health care security.
Know who's been the most fiscally conservative player in this battle? Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, now a Democratic spokesman. Dean went nuts when Lieberman ripped out cost-containing elements of the legislation, going so far (too far) as to call for starting all over again on writing health care reform legislation.
As governor, Dean put together a balanced budget 11 times -- and in the only state that didn't require one. He constantly fought off proposals for expensive new social programs. Frustrated liberals called him "the best Republican governor we ever had."
Frankly, if voters who favor social progressivism and fiscal rectitude can find those qualities in Democratic candidates, why bother with phony Republican moderates, who when the heat is on, don't supply much of either? And in a closely divided Senate, why add to the Republican headcount in a way that could send the majority powers to the obstructers?
I do miss the Republican moderates, whom I often voted for. But if Snowe's recent performance is indicative what they've become, then the heck with them.
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