I am more convinced than ever that America needs a moderate, centrist version of the Tea Party. Recent political events have pushed our country down a dangerously fractious and acrimonious path.
Senator Olympia Snowe’s (R-Maine) sudden retirement announcement last month was shocking.Snowe is an endangered species on Capitol Hill: She’s a staunchly maverick Republican and is known as a bipartisan leader and a centrist policymaker who has always conducted herself with the utmost class, courage and independence. Her surprise decision to not seek re-election this November was made out of disgust with the feckless divisiveness of American politics, and it underscores a disturbing trend.
Next year, the U.S. Senate will lose many of its most prominent moderates, including Independent Joe Lieberman (Conn.), conservative Democrats like Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.), and GOP moderates like Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). With aggressive primary challenges from the right to Republicans Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the end result of the 2012 Senate elections could be a profoundly intransigent Congress.
The Blue Dog caucus of conservative Democrats has been decimated to an iota of its former strength. Liberal Republicans are virtually nonexistent, as are moderates. Consequently, political extremes are entrenched in our nation. As Snowe observed, Congress has almost been converted to a parliament where legislators show loyalty to factions, rather than to independent conviction.
Our country desperately needs national reconciliation. We have lost a gentility and dignity in our politics. It is easy to blame our elected officials, but in reality they take their cues from us — the public. We have lost our former reverence of the words of Voltaire, who proclaimed, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” It takes real courage to afford respect to your ideological opponents, and even more to build consensus with them. That courage is lacking today.
In no way does moderation equal the dulling of our politics or our political debates. Our founders designed our government to facilitate intense and rigorous exchange of ideas.
Their actions also, however, built a legacy of consensus and mutual respect.
In the Second Continental Congress, Pennsylvania’s John Dickinson was the most resolute opponent of John Adams’ proposed movement for independence. Dickinson fought tooth and nail against the likes of Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin with tremendous eloquence and skill. Though he was defeated, he went on to be one of only two members of the congress to join a militia: His commitment to the American people superseded his personal political agenda.
We are on the precipice of extinguishing the spirit of Dickinson. Our gerrymandered districts cultivate political extremes, while the wrath of partisan purists in primaries means the courage to reach across the aisle or challenge party orthodoxy is political suicide. Americans should be outraged.
The same indignation and righteous zeal that fueled the Tea Party must be summoned, channeled and directed in a way that reclaims American politics for the vast majority of us who inhabit the space on the political spectrum between Rush Limbaugh and Occupy Wall Street.
There is reason to be optimistic. In a likely presidential matchup between President Obama and Mitt Romney, Americans will have the opportunity to choose between two fundamentally pragmatic leaders. Both have eschewed some of the more corrosive and extreme politics of their parties, and Americans should expect the two men to fiercely compete for the center in the general election. That is a good start.
Politicians respond to incentives, and it is incumbent upon us as voters to make bipartisanship, consensus and moderation politically lucrative pursuits. We should reward the courage of those who take the right path over the easy path, even if it departs from our personal preferences.
Talk about moderation is cheap. Now is the best chance to establish a new facet of American politics. Geniality, cooperation and selflessness are hard, but they are also the right thing to do.
Sam Dulik is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He is the director of special events for the Georgetown University College Republicans. QUORUM CALL appears every other Friday.