This is the problem

This post was started in an attempt to profile members of Congress who could be considered moderates. I thought it would be worthwhile to display and discuss these increasingly valuable people. What I can across first, though, was this:


The moderate is an increasingly endangered animal, and as we can see in these graphs – helpfully compiled by Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who have been “making data nerds happy” with things like this since the 1980s – they’ve left behind a Senate toiling under that buzziest of buzzwords, polarized (or, I supposed, polarization in this case), and one that is worse for them having left it. This system for scoring politicians that Poole created, and on which the above graphs are based, “rates each member of Congress on a scale from negative 1 (very liberal on economic issues) to positive 1 (very conservative) based on their roll-call votes,” says polling guru Nate Silver.  He gives us some examples:

According to the system, the score for the average Democrat in the 111th Congress was -0.382 (negative 0.382), although there was a fairly significant range, from very liberal Democrats like Dennis J. Kucinich (-0.612) and Barbara Lee (-0.743) to moderates like Heath Shuler (-0.100) and Ben Nelson (-0.030).

Moderates are specifically targeted by special interest groups because they are more easily beatable. This results in an ever-increasing split within Congress as both parties shift away from each other. This is the opposite of what needs to happen. One of the chief tenets of governing has to be compromise, and extremism belies compromise.

It is also worth noting that some moderates are called that because they have non-extremist views, and some are called that because sometimes they vote with liberals, and sometimes they vote with conservatives. This second definition I would not call a moderate (I don’t know what I’d call it, “non-party-specific entity?”). Unfortunately, degrees of ideological belief are only understood when related to something else, i.e. “Bob is more conservative than Bill.” These degrees don’t exist in a vacuum. Consequently, and as a product of the increasing polarization in the Republican party, those who would now be considered moderate are not all that moderate by older standards (the same can also be said of the Democratic Party, though to lesser degrees). Consider this from an article on this subject from The New Republic:

What remains of “moderation” within the party has taken on a definition very distinct from the meaning that it held originally. Unlike the moderate and liberal Republicans of yore, today’s “moderates” generally identify themselves as conservative. They are simply less so. The most recent wave of ideological re-making, undertaken since 2002, has seen a series of primary challenges largely replacing conservatives such as Bob Inglis, Richard Lugar, and Robert Bennett with even more implacably conservative Republicans.

The Republican Party is currently undergoing a many-faceted revolution – and possibly rebellion – within its ranks, and if it’s violent enough (figuratively) when the dust settles we might have some legitimate change. At that point I’ll have to re-assess.


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