Ross Douthat is a hoot today:
You can’t have a successful political party without centrists. Happily for Republicans still smarting from last week’s defection, you can have a successful political party without centrists like Arlen Specter.***
This doesn’t mean that Republicans should be happy that their tent is shrinking toward political irrelevance. But more Lincoln Chafees and Olympia Snowes aren’t the answer. What’s required instead is a better sort of centrist. The Reagan-era wave of Republican policy innovation — embodied, among others, by the late Jack Kemp — has calcified in much the same way that liberalism calcified a generation ago. And so in place of hacks and deal-makers, the Republican Party needs its own version of the neoliberals and New Democrats — reform-minded politicians like Gary Hart and Bill Clinton, who helped the Democratic Party recover from the Reagan era, instead of just surviving it.
Hart, Clinton and their peers were critical of their own side’s orthodoxies, but you couldn’t imagine them jumping ship to join the Republicans. They were deeply rooted in liberal politics, but they had definite ideas for how the Democratic Party could learn from its mistakes, and from its opponents, in order to further liberalism’s deeper goals.
No equivalent faction — rooted in conservatism, but eager for innovation — exists in the Republican Party today. Maybe something like it can grow out of the listening tour that various Republican power players are embarking on this month. Maybe it can bubble up outside the Beltway — from swing-state governors like Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty, or reformists in deep-red states, like the much-touted Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Utah’s Jon Huntsman. But to succeed, such a faction will have to represent something legitimately new in right-of-center politics. It can’t sound like Rush Limbaugh — but it can’t sound like Arlen Specter either.
No political party can be effective without a center, now watch me crap all over the two remaining centrists in the GOP and then pretend that solid conservatives like Huntsman and Jindal are centrists. So Douthat doesn’t like Specter, or Collins, or Snowe. Fine. But pretending that the guy who voted with the Republicans 70% of the time is actually a liberal isn’t actually achieving much other than to further the current Republican delusion. It is only in the fanatical wingnut world where the answers to everything are tax cuts, more bombs, and prayer that folks like Souter or Specter or Snowe are “liberal.”
In other words, they only look liberal because you all are nucking futs. To the rest of us in what we like to call the real world, they are what they are- center right Republicans.