Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dead Center

With the announcement Tuesday by Maine's Republican Senator Olympia Snowe that she will not be seeking re-election this fall, some in the media are pointing once again (with either feigned concern or a concern born of ignorance) to the ever-shrinking "Vital Center" in American politics.  Snowe joins similarly described Democrat Senators Joe Lieberman, Kent Conrad, and Ben Nelson in forswearing yet another run for office.

First, please know that the "center" in American domestic politics has been decidedly left of center since the New Deal at least.  Even the coiner of the phrase "The Vital Center", the late Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., an unapologetic man of the Left, felt compelled eventually to clarify that his term should properly be restricted to the area of foreign policy.  And up until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, his description was more or less apt.  But, as I say, with respect to domestic policy it has not been the case for some time now.

So, what then will these retirements bring to our politics?

Clarity...and will no matter who replaces them.

While it's true that each of these senators speaks publicly in a less overtly ideological and partisan  fashion than do many of their colleagues, it's also true that when when the vote is tough, when push comes to shove, when party loyalty and identity really matter, they all, to include Senator Snowe,  vote with the Democrats.  (I'll concede that you can probably find a few exceptions to this rule, but they are exceptional precisely because of the rule.)

In major league, hardball politics, it's very important to know who's on your team.  While the Democrats could be more or less sure of their roster, with senators like Olympia Snowe, the Republicans could not.

The Great Reckoning continues.

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