Over the course of the first year of the Obama Administration - and some would argue, because of it - moderate Republicanism has all but ceased to exist. Dealmakers like Olympia Snowe are looked upon by the party establishment as defectors willing to cooperate with the evil socialist agenda of the White House. Center-right Senate candidates are being overtaken in public opinion polls by staunch conservatives like Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Sarah Palin has assumed a new role as the face of the populist Tea Party movement. Her former running mate, an erstwhile champion of true bipartisanship, may very well lose his long-held Arizona Senate seat this November. And not because he's a Republican, but because he isn't Republican enough.
The GOP seems to be concluding exactly the opposite of what they had hoped Obama would: moving to the center is not the answer. Becoming more radical is.
It's hard to see how this could possibly be a good thing for America. During the 1990's, the nation experienced a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity, largely as a result of divided government. Bill Clinton was forced to abandon some of his more ambitious liberal goals with the election of a Republican Congress in 1994, but so too were the Republicans compelled to lay aside their more ideologically-driven aspirations. Clinton vetoed welfare reform several times before signing a version he approved of, and deals were struck that, while far from perfect, represented true sacrifice in the name of bipartisanship. The "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, which is rightly being put on a path to repeal, was arguably a significant accomplishment in its day.
Paul Krugman observed recently in his New York Times column that the Republican opposition seems to find political potential in making the country literally ungovernable. This is indeed a disturbing trend, but my hope is that the defenders of centrism among those on the right may yet prevail.
I was particularly encouraged by two columns out today, one in the Washington Post by George Will, in which he argues that Palin is not qualified to be President and that the GOP should turn to more reasonable alternatives; and the other in the Wall Street Journal by Karl Rove, who urges the Tea Party to disown its radical fringe and divorce itself from 9/11 denialism and charges that Obama was not born in the United States. Both convinced me that something profound is happening: moderate conservatism is finally returning to the mainstream. Conservative commentators are no longer just taking shots at Obama, but are finally trying to reverse the slide of their party to the far right by pointing out the very real virtues of centrism.
Either that, or they're just following Olympia Snowe in cooperating with the enemy.