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The Middle Wing
David Brooks on who the election was the biggest victory for -- common-sense moderates like me: people who want government that makes sense. For anybody who hasn't been hanging here much, I'm fiscally very conservative and socially libertarian. I think NPR shouldn't be paid for from public coffers, and I think everybody but the poor should pay for their own children's schooling...and I think drugs should be legalized, and so should prostitution. No, that doesn't describe a lot of people in a nutshell, but what I really want is government based on what's economically and politically sensible, not government pandering to the right or left or big business. Here's an excerpt from Brooks in the NYT and IHT, on the moderates who lost confidence in Republican rule:

Their disaffection with the Republican Party was not philosophical. It was about competence and accountability. It was about the accumulation of Rumsfeld, Katrina, Abramoff, the bridge to nowhere and the failure to quarantine Mark Foley. Bill Clinton captured the electorate's central complaint about the Republicans: "They can't run anything right."

So voters kicked out Republicans but did not swing to the left. For the most part they exchanged moderate Republicans for conservative Democrats. It was a great day for the centrist Joe Lieberman, who defeated the scion of the Daily Kos net roots, Ned Lamont. It was a great day for anti-abortion Democrats like Bob Casey and probably for pro-gun Democrats like Jim Webb. It was a great day for conservative Democrats like Heath Shuler in North Carolina and Brad Ellsworth in Indiana.

...If you wanted to pick out a stereotypical swing voter in this election, it would be a white evangelical suburban office park mom in a blue state suburb. She's part of the one-third of white evangelicals who voted Democratic this year, as did 20 percent of self-described conservatives. She supported the Iraq war once but believes it has been conducted terribly. She doesn't have a lot of faith in government generally - 54 percent of voters believe government interferes too much, while only 37 percent want it to do more, according to a recent CNN survey - but she does think government should be able to accomplish its core missions.

She embodies the message of E.J. Dionne's 1991 book, "Why Americans Hate Politics," which argues that Americans are sick of symbolic politics, dying ideologies and false choices. Most of all, she's angry that politicians behave in ways that would be unacceptable in every realm of her life, and she thinks they're endangering her country.

In some ways, this election reminds me of the 1974 Democratic sweep. The Republicans have screwed up. Democrats have surged in. But the result leads not to a liberal tide but to Jimmy Carter, who in 1976 ran as a conservative anti-political reformer who won on fiscal discipline and with the support of Pat Robertson.

This election didn't define a new era, but it marks the end of an old one. If Democrats are going to take advantage of their victory, they will have to do two things. They will have to show they have not been taken over by their bloggers or their economic nationalists, who will alienate them from the suburban office park moms. Second, they'll have to come up with ideas as big as the problems we face. Their current platform consists of small-bore tax credits and foreign policy vagaries about, say, "redoubling" our efforts to get Osama bin Laden. (Why not retripling or requadrupling?)

Realignments are achieved by parties that define big new approaches to problems and neither party has done that yet. In the meantime, if I were a Democrat I'd be like Lee Hamilton, the former Indiana congressman and serial commission member. America is hungering for leaders like him: open-minded, unassuming centrists who are interested in government more than politics. If the Democrats are smart, this could be the beginning of a new Hamiltonian age.

If the Democrats are smart...if the Democrats are going to take advantage of their victory...now there's the problem. I don't have faith in the Democrats; I just find them, in general, too stupid and centerless to do as much damage as the Republicans.

Posted by aalkon at November 11, 2006 11:27 AM

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Comments

Quarantine Mark Foley? This is a moderate position?

Posted by: Lena at November 11, 2006 6:43 PM

I didn't notice that. Quarantine is a very weird word -- bespeaking somebody trying to write "literary" and using words they don't really know the meaning of...or, worse, he meant to use quarantine...which would be pretty ugly.

The moment Foley was discovered behaving inappropriately with the pages this should have come to a head. Instead, they were more concerned with keeping one more right-wing senator than standing up for "values" that they claim to be so concerned about. How many right-wing senators were having affairs while blasting Clinton? Larry Flynt got Livingston to resign. How many others kept theirs a secret?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 11, 2006 7:50 PM

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