In the 1950’s a little known political theory was coined describing US politics by the ASPAC. Considered outside the mainstream by many this theory called basically for the two political parties to move further apart in their views and ideology, to make the choice of who to vote for easier for voters. Let’s keep in mind this theory came in a completely different political atmosphere then today. Republicans and Democrats were mostly moderate and liberal, with a few conservatives. Presidential campaigns were fought over mundane issues, the public actually trusted govt, both parties were strong on defense due to fear of the USSR, more people associated with the political parties of today, etc. The list could go on for days. For this idea to even see the light of day at the time was absurd.
But fast-forward to 2010 and it is all to real. Moderates are a dying breed in both parties. The casualty list of them from 2010 is absolutely horrific. Dozens of moderate Democrats were defeated in 2010, several moderate Democratic Republican Senators went down into defeat as well. The affect has been to polarize American politics more then ever. Factor in gubernatorial losses for both parties and very few if any moderate governors represent any of our nations 50 states.
The polarization of American politics does not have one easy route to follow for an answer. Rather multiple factors account for its rise. The ascendancy of the conservative movement within the GOP from the 80’s onward, the liberal resurgence in the Democratic party in 2000, the realignment of the South and Midwest to solidly Republican conservative and the NE to liberal Democrats has all played a part in this unfolding event.
From the 50’s until 1964 the conventional wisdom within the GOP was that only a moderate presidential candidate could win the election. With the Democratic House bolstered and solidified at the time by the powerful conservative Democratic contigent the real battles for control were fought at the Senate and presidential level. In 1964 GOP conventional wisdom was shattered when upstart AZ Senator Barry Goldwater won the party’s nomination over moderate NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Though he went onto get crushed badly Goldwater’s nomination sent a strong signal the party was shifting and its establishment roots were quickly moving to the conservative side. Even the election of Nixon and Ford did not change this dyanmic and in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected president it completed the circle. The GOP had finally begun its transition from a moderate to conservative party.
By contrast the Democratic party, minus its Southern wing, was as FDR a party as it had been in the 30s and 40s. Up until the election of 1980 that had not seemed to hurt it that much. Afterall, Truman had been elected president in 48, JFK in 60, Johnson in 64, and Carter in 76. But come 1980 the FDR wing of the party was about to disappear into the background. Three straight presidential wins for the GOP, 80, 84, and 88 shifted the party establishments focus to winning. The transition to a more moderate party, at least federally, was made easier by the fact that the South had at the time now moved firmly into the GOP’s camp at the time. So in 92 when moderate AR Governor Bill Clinton ended the GOP streak at 3 for winning presidential elections the South embraced him. He won Southern states the party had not won since 76 and Congressional Southern Democrats sang his praises. When Clinton moved left with gun control legislation and HC reform the elections of 94 brought in a firmly conservative Senate and GOP House. From then on Clinton was free to be a moderate. But come 2000 that equation changed. His VP Al Gore, once a moderate Senator from TN firmly moved to the right. After his loss Democrats never forgot and the left once again became resurgent in the party. The death of the conservate Democrat in the South as a force in Democratic politics preceded this move. In 2004 another liberal, Senator John Kerry won the nod of his party to run for president. Then in 2008 we saw liberal Senator Barack Obama win his party’s nod. The circle was complete yet again.
Finally we move to the realignment of the regions. The Midwest of the US was once a solid battleground for the parties. But it shifted to the GOP firmly by the 60s. The South began its transition to the GOP at the presidential level in 1972, the Congressional level in 94 and the state and local level all the way up to 2010. By contrast, the Northeast begun its swing leftward at the presidental level in 92, ironically with a moderate Bill Clinton. The NE already had a history of moderate to liberal politics, but it had for the most part still voted Republican at the presidential level and split its vote at the state and congressional level. That had effectively ended in 2010 just like the South voting Democratic had the same year.
So how does all this tie into the death of the moderate politican? They all have affected it. Moderate politicans once predominated our political arena but now are all but gone. In the end this has left the ideological gap betwen the liberal and conservative camps of the parties to large to bridge. Now the few remaining moderates in each party are running scared. GOP Moderates in the Senate such as Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Dick Lugar (R-IN) are all facing challenges from the conservative right. On the left few if any moderate to conservative Senators or Reps. exist in Democratic ranks. What few there are are in red states like NC where they are likely to be redistricted into unwinnable districts or face tough general election challenges in swing states. No moderates remain able to be deal-makers as in the past. This has further polarized our politics. Americans who want pragmatic and sensible solutions have become tired with this dogmatic form of politics. While all American voters at some level associate with the political parties at some level it is telling that almost 40% of the public chooses to ID as Independents rather then a party label. The death of the moderate politican has led to furtherization of polarization in American politics and made the little old theory of “Responsible Parties Model” become more of a reality than ever before