Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Republican Moderates
It's been one of the basic tenets of this blog from the beginning that people who call themselves "independents" or "moderates" or "middle-of-the-roaders," far from being rugged, principled individualists who consider every issue on its merits and vote according to some personal standard of correctness, are actually muddle-headed nitwits who can't see the forest of American politics for the trees of individual issues. Short version: There's a war going on. Pick a side. Don't stand in the crossfire because you'll only be in the way, and you can't do any good there anyhow.

Today, two Republican moderates are in the spotlight--Olympia Snowe of Maine and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Both are members of the Senate committee that held hearings into the warrantless wiretaps earlier this month. Both of them came out strongly against the wiretaps when the program was first revealed last December. But now, Snowe is ready to roll over and vote against a full-scale Congressional investigation of the program. Likewise, Hagel has said he would support a bill to be proposed by Ohio's Mike DeWine, to make the wiretaps legal.

We've heard this song before. So-called Repug "moderates" make pious noises in the direction of independence, in the direction of statesmanship--which can be defined, in our modern era, as acting for the good of the country rather than the good of the party--but they only do it when there are no political consequences involved. Later, when all the money is on the table and it's time to show their cards, they throw in with the administration. They do it every damn time. The vote is tomorrow, but you can bet your grandma's dentures that there will be no investigation, by a party-line vote of 8-7.

Now, you may be thinking that I've contradicted myself here. At least Snowe and Hagel know what side they're on. But my problem with Snowe and Hagel is that they don't seem to know what side they're on--and neither do we, watching them, although there's plenty of evidence for what they really are. They call themselves moderates, they think of themselves as mavericks, and they're admired for it by a lot of people on our side of the aisle. And so, on an issue like the warrantless wiretaps, where the evidence of presidential wrongdoing is clear, we find ourselves thinking/believing/hoping that these "moderates" will vote not by party but on principle. But they rarely do. In the end, they're as reliably Republican as Santorum, Frist, Coburn, and the rest of their merry band

Remember what the colorful Texan progressive Jim Hightower said: "There's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos." For Snowe and Hagel, being in the middle of the road is not so much a sign of principle as it is a sign of confusion. In this case, it sure ain't statesmanship.

Shameless Plug: Over at the Hits Just Keep On Comin', our first-ever podcast is up.

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