The other day, Bart shared with me the following piece from The New York Times. Before I provide an excerpt, I’ll share what Bart had to say first:
I am copying and pasting an article in the NYT about Jim Cooper, a Blue Dog Democrat considered to be the last true moderate in the House. A very good read. FYI – linking to articles is not one of my strong points.
Personally, I think he has identified the turning point of politics in my lifetime and how things have devolved since Newt Gingrich, a man I have never liked for one second, was elected to congress. Gingrich tries to come across as an intellectual but in my estimation, he is a man possessing a high I.Q. but without the ability to put it to proper use for the good of everyone, not just his own personal ambitions.
The article is a refreshing walk down memory lane when one considers the tone of things out there today. There was a time when politics was populated with men and women who had a certain sense of duty to all citizens, not just party loyalty.
My response to Bart was to say:
I don’t know whether Cooper is the LAST, but there are precious few — in office. We’re not so rare out in the population.
Which is true. Unfortunately, our vaunted two-party system increasingly guarantees that moderates will not make it to Congress. No one has a chance in the fall without the backing of one party or the other. And the nominating process weeds out reasonable people, most of the time. Sort of makes me want to try running myself sometime, just to see how hard it would be. My prediction: Hard as getting a Republican to say something nice about Barack Obama. Or a Democrat about W.
Here’s the excerpt:
The Last Moderate
By JOE NOCERA
Published: September 5, 2011
Jim Cooper, a Blue Dog Democrat who represents the Nashville area, was first elected to Congress in 1982. He was 28, and if it’s not quite right to say he’s been there ever since — he spent eight years in the private sector after losing the race for Al Gore’s Senate seat — he’s still been a congressman most of his adult life.
You’d think that Cooper’s tenure would ensure him the privileges of seniority. It doesn’t. Considering that he’s a mild-mannered man, you’d think he’d have friends on both sides of the aisle. Not so. He’s loathed by Republicans for being in the wrong party, and scorned by Democrats for his fiscal conservatism. At the least, you’d think that he’d be respected for his institutional memory. Wrong again.
The reason is that Cooper is the House’s conscience, a lonely voice for civility in this ugly era. He remembers when compromise was not a dirty word and politicians put country ahead of party. And he’s not afraid to talk about it. “We’ve gone from Brigadoon to Lord of the Flies,” he likes to say….
Ultimately, and not surprisingly, what Cooper ends up talking about is the influence of money on politics, or what I would term the natural confluence of money and power in a capitalist system, which, if completely left to its own devices, or taken to its logical conclusion, can threaten democracy.
Bart (and Cooper) mention Gingrich…but Gingrich didn’t appear out of thin air. There is really fascinating work being done now that truly measures the increasing polarization. Nate Silver did an excellent summary recently on this. I found this the most interesting finding:
“According to the [scoring] system, both parties have been on a trajectory toward more ‘extreme’ positions since roughly 1970, the natural result of which is more polarization. However, the parties do not quite share equal responsibility for this: Republicans have moved about twice as much to the right as Democrats have to the left. Also, while the Democrats’ leftward shift was essentially a one-off event, the result of many moderate, Southern Democrats losing their seats in the early 1990s, the Republicans’ rightward transition has been continuous and steady.”
All of which strikes me as exactly what I’ve sensed in my lifetime. I too wish we had more than two viable parties, and had to govern coalition-style as many parliamentary democracies do. But given a choice between a party that is often hypocritical in its stated desire to give voice to the powerless and not to tip the scales too heavily in favor of the moneyed and powerful, versus a party that frankly revels in the increasing concentration of power and wealth and its dominance of the political process, views the unemployed or the poor as morally bankrupt, or is so tickled at the idea of executing people or of letting a person without health insurance die that they spontaneously burst into applause at the very mention of these (last two GOP debates), I’m gonna have to take the sometimes-hypocritical party every time. But it would be nice to have some other choices.
Not sure about the ‘scoring’ but it seems like the GOP has moved far to the right while the shrinking Democratic party has stayed fairly moderate. With the exception of Dennis Kucinich and perhaps a few in the Black Caucus it’s hard to find any true liberals anymore.
It is very far-fetched to say that Jim Cooper is the last moderate in the House. Anyone who follows this stuff knows that. If you are going to call Jim Cooper and his politics a moderate, then what about our fellow Carolinian Heath Shuler or John Barrow from across the Savannah River? While their numbers have lessened, there are still 25 so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats just like Cooper.
Similarly, not every Republican proudly carries the tea party banner. Everyone forgets the fifty Republicans who self-dentify as members of the Republican “Main Street” Partnership – a group of moderate Republicans. Sure you’ve probably never heard of most of them, but no one would mistake a Steve LaTourette of Ohio or a Greg Walden of Oregon of being hard right wingers.
I heard on NPR that in some non union car factories they are hiring new employees at half the wages they previously paid, with the result that 2 people can be doing exactly the same job, but that 1 is payed 1/2 as much. One employee who had been interviewed said that he hated it but needed the job. Ah, the great new society.
More moderates– Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins from Maine….”the way politics should be”…