E.J. Dionne writes in the Washington Post about departing Republican representative Sherwood Boehlert. His retirement saddens Dionne, because:
The affable 69-year-old New York Republican is one of the last of a breed: a liberal Republican, though he calls himself a “moderate” and has the record to prove it. Boehlert’s departure does not leave the House bereft of liberal Republicans — Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa is more liberal than Boehlert. But Leach, alas, is an outlier. The spotted owl is in good shape compared with liberal Republicans.
Republicans of this kind have little to offer the modern GOP, whose strength comes from perfect discipline and small majorities. While they are all for a big tent when the Presidential campaign is going, in terms of daily business strict adherence to the demands of Congressional leaders is paramount. In fact, Democrats have suffered because they failed to recognize this shift. Only recently have Democrat leaders imposed such strict discipline on their parties, such as in the vote to raise the debt ceiling, which all Senate Democrats voted against.
Dionne acknowledges that some argue this strict discipline is a good thing:
Why does the decline and fall of liberal Republicanism matter? After all, rationalizing the political system into a more conservative GOP and a more-or-less liberal Democratic Party makes the alternatives clearer to voters, who are offered, in Goldwater’s famous phrase, “a choice, not an echo.”
The post-2004 triumphalism springs from this idea. The elated Republicans essentially claimed that Bush won, so the GOP agenda was fully embraced, so Democrats ought to shut it. He had political capital to spend. Yet this simplistic view ignores the fact that almost half of the nation repudiated the GOP agenda. In Europe, where party discipline has always been very strict, there are many parties to choose from, and proportional representation as well, so the composition of national leadership ends up approximating the nation’s wishes.
In America, however, the GOP is able to transform slim victories into total control through the magic of party discipline. The only casualty, Dionne points out, is good government:
But it turns out that a Republican Party dominated by conservatives is no more coherent than the party that left room for progressives. The huge budget deficit is conservatism’s Waterloo, testimony to its political failure. The conservatives love to cut taxes but can’t square their lust for tax reduction with plausible spending cuts. Oh, yes, a group of House conservatives has a paper plan involving deep program cuts, but other conservatives know that these cuts will not pass, and shouldn’t.
Back when debate and disagreement were more common, solutions to the deficit would have seemed easier to reach. Now they are impossible to contemplate without a major adjustment of Congress. Thank ideological discipline for that.