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Rethinking the Moderate Republican

Former Atlantic magazine senior editor Ross Douthat, now a New York Times columnist, has an interesting piece today condemning Arlen Specter and "high-profile Yankee moderates like Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Lincoln Chafee" who filled the media last week - in the wake of Specter's high-profile defection to the Democratic Party - with invective against a GOP that has marginalized centrists.

Douthat, a conservative, argues that many of the so-called Rockefeller Republicans are not Republicans at all, but merely "instinctive liberals who happen to have ancestral ties to the Grand Old Party" - political opportunists more interested in cutting deals with Democrats than standing up for something.

What the GOP needs, he argues, is a new kind of centrist - rooted in conservative ideals, but commited to reform.

[M]ore Lincoln Chafees and Olympia Snowes aren’t the answer. What’s required instead is a better sort of centrist. The Reagan-era wave of Republican policy innovation — embodied, among others, by the late Jack Kemp — has calcified in much the same way that liberalism calcified a generation ago. And so in place of hacks and deal-makers, the Republican Party needs its own version of the neoliberals and New Democrats — reform-minded politicians like Gary Hart and Bill Clinton, who helped the Democratic Party recover from the Reagan era, instead of just surviving it.

Interesting argument. But reducing the Rockefeller Republicans to simple horse-traders is a bit of a stretch. And Douthat goes too far when he dismisses the group's commitment to fiscal conservatism because the moderates struck a deal with Obama on the stimulus package. Indeed, the critique smacks of the rigid orthodoxy the columnist purports to shed in his call for a new sort of moderate-conservative politics.  

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