Monday, September 29, 1997

Week of 09/29/1997

Thrown to the Wolves
Weld’s failure a failure for moderates and a win for Clinton
- by David Matthews 2

This past week (9/15), former Massachusetts governor William Weld withdrew his nomination to be US ambassador to Mexico. The man who resigned from a secure position as governor just so he could work on being an ambassador suddenly gave up on the fight.

Unfortunately, Weld never stood a chance. To secure the nomination, Weld had to get past the Senate Foreign Relations committee, run by the #2 geriatric Republican, Jesse Helms. (The #1 geriatric, of course, being Strom Thurmond, the only person still alive who can actually remember a world without Helms.) And Helms made it clear from day one he was going to do everything he could to sabotage that nomination. As chairman of the committee, he did just that.

On the onset, this appeared to be yet another case of Republicans stonewalling the efforts of a Democratic president. Nothing new, right? Almost. For you see, the former governor is not a Democrat, nor a liberal, but rather a moderate Republican. That makes the conflict even more significant, since it wasn’t simply the case of Democrat versus Republican, but rather moderate versus conservative.

Now let’s be brutally honest here. President Clinton knew in advance that this was going to happen. Helms and Weld have long been at odds with each other over ideology and the direction of the GOP. Weld had said he would not support Helms if the governor was elected to the Senate in ‘96. Weld lost that election, some would say, because he could not nail that diehard conservative support. Clinton simply fed the governor to the conservative wolves, knowing they’d kill their own and pretend that it was Bubba they were shredding. That’s why Clinton didn’t publicly back Weld in his nomination campaign either, even though many of his Democratic friends in the Senate did. That way Clinton can point to the GOP and say they are run by "radical extremists."

But the problem goes deeper than that. We’re talking about a conflict with ideology that the conservatives will always win unless it is addressed by the moderates. There are many things you can say about conservatives - you can call them out of touch, outdated, unrealistic, self-righteous, delusional, unemotional, pious, arrogant… But the one thing I have to credit conservatives for is that they are firm on their beliefs and are willing to defend them to the bitter end. You cannot make that claim, however, with moderates, and more in particular to moderate republicans.

When Rush Limbaugh blasts moderates, I will admit it irks me somewhat. In the traditional and outdated one-dimensional political spectrum, my libertarian beliefs would firmly place me in the realm of moderates. Yet I also know that for all his bluster, there is a ring of truth in Limbaugh’s disdain for moderates. Moderates don’t fight for their beliefs, they negotiate and compromise and consider that to be progress. Conservatives, on the other hand, will fight tooth and nail for what they believe in, rarely negotiating, and never from a position of weakness. Conservatives will treat moderates worse than they do liberals, simply because even liberals will fight for their beliefs no matter how clueless they really are.

The 1996 GOP primary race was the best example of how conservatives and moderates act. The moderate candidates like Pete Wilson and Arlin Specter were the first to fold. The more conservative, however, the longer they stayed. Pat Buchannan, the definition of diehard conservative, stayed in the race all the way to the convention, even though it was clear he would never get the nomination. Even in the GOP convention, it was clear that moderates have a problem defending their position. On the issue of abortion, pro-choice moderates were in a clear minority to the pro-life conservatives that attended. Yet they threatened to take the issue to the convention floor if a statement of tolerance wasn’t put into the party’s platform. But when push came to shove, the moderates negotiated for a footnote blurb of their opposition. A worthless position, but the moderates deluded themselves into thinking it was progress.

Moderates need to be willing to fight hard for what they believe in. That’s the only way they can be an effective counter for die-hard conservatives. Forget trying to avoid stepping on toes! Sure your position will make hard conservatives cringe. So what? Who cares? Conservatives certainly don’t care one whit about whether or not their position makes moderates cringe! They continue to move at full speed knowing full well that moderates will simply cave in.

Believe me, if moderates made a stand, they may not be accepted by conservatives, but at least they’ll be respected for defending what they believe in. Sometimes that will make all the difference in party politics.

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