The Lonely Centrist

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Friday, January 20, 2006

John J. DiIulio on the Lonely Center

Yesterday I expressed my ongoing frustation with the Democratic Party and its failure to present a particularly viable alternative to the GOP.

This week's Chronicle of Higher Education has an excellent article by John J. DiIulio, a Democrat who was the first Director of President Bush's faith based initiative, titled, "Are Conservative Republicans Now America's Permanent Ruling Class?" Unfortunately, it is by subscription only. But it's an excellent analysis of where we are, and touches on some of my points of frustration. A couple excerpts:
According to the Washington chattering class, Bush and the Republicans' governing majority are suddenly but surely in decline. Many among the selfsame talking heads who were only recently talking Republican realignment, conservative hegemony, and Bush's lasting Reagan-like legacy, are now talking conservative crack-up, the lame-duck president's political meltdown, and the Democrats' winning back the House in 2006.
There is only one problem with this latest conventional political wisdom. It is, like the conventional political wisdom that immediately preceded it, almost completely wrong in virtually every respect.
Conservative Republicans, beset by deep ideological divisions,
are not even close to becoming the country's permanent ruling class. Neither the post-Reagan Republican Party in general, nor the present Bush White House in particular, ever actually rode so high politically.Just the same, neither the GOP nor the president is in any definite long-term political trouble. Conservative Republicans, even without permanent-majority clout, are still more potent politically than liberal Democrats, and likely to remain so. Centrist and
neoprogressive Democrats could credibly compete for power with conservative Republicans, but they must first pry their party's presidential nomination process and key leadership posts from the old-left hands that still primarily control them.
Not even the New Democrats have ever really reached out to the
culturally conservative and anti-abortion Democrats who have been defecting to the Republican Party since the Reagan years.

DiIulio goes on to discuss the divisions between small government "libertarian" Republicans, and "big government" conservatives, including the so-called "neo-cons." But he also reports incisively on another cleavage in the GOP:
Libertarians aside, the GOP's most interesting but least well-understood intraparty political schism is among its religious conservatives. On the one side are what some political scientists term the party's religious purists. Essentially the purists want to push for policies that challenge constitutional church-state limits and to nominate as federal judges those whom only an activist opposed to abortion or gay rights could love. On the other side are its religious pragmatists. Essentially the pragmatists want government to be more
faith-friendly while remaining pluralistic; and, though they are mostly for restricting abortions and against same-sex marriage, they want traditional family values to be promoted less through pitched battles over federal judgeships and more through bipartisan "fatherhood" or "healthy marriage" initiatives and the like.
He then spends too much time discussing the theories of Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, a couple of liberal sociologists with a recent book. But he comes back with two important observations. The first is something most partisans know but hate to admit:
In truth, too many leaders and activists in both parties are way
"off center." It takes at least two to do the ideological polarization tango.
The second is less known but very important:
The most partisan and ideological Republicans — and Democrats —
in Congress are not the elected members themselves but their respective culture-war-mongering, inside-the-Beltway staff members.
He ends with a few predictions - I hope you can find a copy of the article to read them. They are not overly promising for either party.
And oh, my favorite line in this lengthy article:
The center is a lonely place to be in Washington...

  • The Skeptic
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Michael Barone
  • The New Republic
  • National Review
  • Democracy Project
  • Bob Bauer
  • Center for Competitive Politics
  • Ryan Sager
  • Going to the Matt
  • Professor Bainbridge
  • Volokh Conspiracy
  • Mystery Pollster
  • Amitai Etzioni
  • Alexander Chrenkoff
  • Middle East Media Research Institute
  • Right Democrat
  • Democrats for Life