Clicking on banner ads keeps JWR alive
Jewish World Review March 16, 2004 / 23 Adar, 5764

John H. Fund

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

The Vanishing Center: In both political parties, the defense of moderation is no virtue | Both major political parties are increasingly squeezing out moderates, in part because the country is so polarized, and also because each party's primary electorate is becoming smaller and more ideological. Ask John McCain, who was flattened in the 2000 Republican primaries, or Joe Lieberman, whose campaign this year for the Democratic nomination went nowhere.

Interest groups are making it clear they will punish renegade officeholders if they stray too far from party orthodoxy. In primaries in Texas and California this month, liberals flexed their muscle and defeated several Democrats who had shown an ability to work with Republicans. Next month, liberal Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a liberal Republican, will face what appears to be an increasingly formidable primary challenge from Rep. Pat Toomey, who has the support of antitax advocates and social conservatives.

In California, Ted Lempert, a former state assemblyman, lost the Democratic race for a vacant state Senate seat south of San Francisco. The winner, Assemblyman Joe Simitian, had the backing of unions representing prison guards and teachers. Mr. Lempert had expressed skepticism about generous union contracts, and once worked for a group that promoted charter schools.

Ideological enforcers were even more in evidence in Texas, where trial lawyers are furious at the role some Democratic state legislators played in putting Proposition 12, which capped medical malpractice damages, on the ballot last year. The measure won, 51% to 49%, and one member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association told me his group's members planned to punish any legislator who embraced further tort reform. That effectively means Democrats, because their effort to defeat state Rep. Joe Nixon in a GOP primary failed by a 3-to-1 margin.

But liberals had more success in last week's Democratic primaries. Five Democrats who stood accused of playing footsie with Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick on various issues were either defeated or forced into runoffs. State Rep. Roberto Gutierrez was forced into a runoff for backing tort reform.

The most prominent scalp was that of state Rep. Ron Wilson of Houston, a 26-year-incumbent and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, who lost outright. Liberals had other grievances against him stemming from his refusal to join fellow Democrats in abandoning the House floor and fleeing to Oklahoma last year in an unsuccessful attempt to block a new GOP congressional gerrymander. Rep. Glenn Lewis, a Fort Worth Democrat who also declined to go to Oklahoma, lost to Marc Veasey, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Martin Frost. Mr. Frost, in turn, is one of the Democrats most vulnerable in November owing to the GOP redistricting plan.

Some of the defeated Democrats were bitter. "I still don't think it was a good idea for Democrats who are in the minority [in the Legislature] to say we reject bipartisanship," Mr. Lewis says. "It's the only way Democrats are going to get anything."

Mr. Wilson, who is black, was even more blunt. "Because I didn't do what the white, liberal, extremist Democratic leaders wanted me to do, they're trying to punish me," he told the Houston Chronicle. "They think they ought to control the minds and hearts of every black in the Democratic Party, and if you don't do what they say, they're going to try to drag you back to the plantation like a runaway slave."

Democratic consultant Marc Campos agrees that minority legislators are held to a tougher standard of party orthodoxy than whites. He notes that former Democratic House Speaker Pete Laney backed George W. Bush for president in 2000. "Nobody punished him, nobody said anything, so it's selective and, in my opinion, it's also racist," Mr. Campos told the Houston Chronicle. "The master wants you to act a certain way, and they particularly want minorities to do it."

Republicans have their own tensions over party orthodoxy. Some moderates describe themselves as a beleaguered minority within their own party. "I don't think conservatives fully appreciate they wouldn't control the House or Senate without moderates from the Northeast," says Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut. Conservatives say they understand electoral realities and point out that they've backed primary challengers to only two House moderates--Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland and Marge Roukema of New Jersey--both of whom held safe GOP seats. Mr. Gilchrest fended off conservative challengers by 3-to-2 margins in both 2002 and 2004. Ms. Roukema narrowly defeated conservative Scott Garrett in 1998 and 2000 and did not seek re-election in 2002.

Stephen Moore, who heads the free-market Club for Growth, says even in defeat conservative primary challenges can make a difference: "Gilchrest voted for the Bush tax cut last year knowing he'd be called to account for his stand, and Roukema gave up and retired in 2002 and was easily replaced by Scott Garrett."

Rep. Toomey's April 27 challenge to Sen. Specter, a 24-year-incumbent, is more controversial because Al Gore carried Pennsylvania in 2000. Republican backers of Mr. Specter, such as the conservative Sen. Rick Santorum, say that Mr. Toomey would find it difficult to replicate Mr. Specter's support in the vote-rich Philadelphia suburbs. Toomey backers, on the other hand, argue that the liberal voting record of Rep. Joe Hoeffel, the likely Democratic candidate, gives their man a real shot at winning in the fall. "Toomey is no more conservative than Rick Santorum, and Hoeffel is a dyed-in-the-wool liberal who just voted against a bill to protect children in the womb in murder cases like that of Laci Peterson," says one Republican state legislator.

The White House is backing Mr. Specter, following both a tradition of supporting Senate incumbents and in recognition that Mr. Specter, who is in line to chair the Judiciary Committee, has recently provided help on several of President Bush's judicial nominees. But all of that support plus a $9 million bank account hasn't allowed Mr. Specter to put the race away. Recent polls show Mr. Specter hovering at or below the critical 50% support level that denotes an endangered incumbent, and the Club for Growth has run ads highlighting how many times he has voted with John Kerry, who the Club notes was ranked last month in the National Journal's vote index as the most liberal senator.

Mr. Moore says his group seldom enters GOP primaries and then only when the incumbent violates basic Republican tenets. "Low taxes are the central linchpin of conservatism," he says. "It's possible to disagree about abortion, gay rights or the proper level of military spending, but we can't disagree about our one unifying message as conservatives."

Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, concurs. He notes that since President Bush's defeat in 1992, in part because he abandoned his no-new-taxes pledge, the national GOP has seen opposition to higher taxes as an easy way to brand itself with voters. Since 1990 no Republican congressman has voted to increase federal taxes.

As an incumbent, Mr. Specter remains favored to win next month, but he's clearly worried. Having taken heat for opposing President Bush's first tax cut in 2001, he switched and embraced the even more ambitious 2003 tax cut. But his record is still liberal enough to attract the ire of many conservative groups.

With Congress so evenly divided, the pressure on individual officeholders to back their party's prevailing positions on issues has become more intense. With party primaries increasingly featuring low turnout that is dominated by ideological voters--as this year's Democratic presidential contests were--you can expect more primary challenges against dissenters in the future.

The argument against such primary challenges is that moderate voters in general elections don't want candidates who deviate too much from the mainstream. But that calculation doesn't matter as much anymore, as more and more districts are gerrymandered to eliminate competitive elections. Even in competitive seats, if both parties nominate ideologues, voters who are neither conservative nor liberal may not have much choice but to go either right or left, since the middle is fast disappearing.

Every weekday publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Comment on JWR contributor John H. Fund's column by clicking here.


03/09/04: A JFK-NBC Ticket? If Kerry wants to make things interesting, he'll consider Tom Brokaw for veep
03/02/04: As Virginia mulls a tax hike, all Americans should guard their wallets
02/24/04: Marriage of Inconvenience: Why same-sex nuptials make Democrats nervous
02/10/04: Republican Rot: Is Congress's GOP majority becoming as corrupt as the Democrats were?
02/03/04: Moore Trouble: Alabama's former chief justice may challenge Bush for the Religious Right vote
01/13/04: Rage of a Relic: Paul O'Neill is angry that the world has passed him by
01/06/04: Unintended Consequence: How Terry McAuliffe and James Carville created Howard Dean
09/03/03: The Anti-Dean: Why Hillary opposes the Democratic front-runner
06/27/03: The California jurist who may replace Justice O'Connor
06/02/03: Clinton the Hoover: Bill, Hillary and the Dems' political vacuum
05/27/03: Nerd Nirvana: Students are to the right of the faculty even at the U of Chicago
05/16/03: GOPers gain in the land of Humphrey and Mondale
04/28/03: With the war won, it's time for Bush to master the Senate
04/04/03: Is "diversity" on campus even a goal worth pursuing?
03/05/03: Sunday morning with the BBC
02/28/03: Shut Up, They Explained: If you can censor this, thank a teacher
02/21/03: Unmitigated Gaul: Saddam isn't the only dictator with whom Jacques Chirac is cozy
02/18/03: Growing number of black officials breaking ranks by calling for a more honest approach to race relations
01/31/03: Half and Half: Republicans have achieved parity among American voters
11/11/02: Sobering Thoughts: The GOP's cup runneth over? No, it's half empty
10/31/02: Blue Gray: California's governor answers a Nobel Prize winner with obscenities
10/14/02: Bad Hair Day: Did Montana Dems exploit antigay prejudice?
10/11/02: The kill-everything senate
09/30/02: Schroeder did what it took to win--but at what cost to Germany?
08/22/02: Buh-Bye Bob, So Long Cynthia : No amount of shouting could've saved Barr or McKinney
07/29/02: GOP: Get Over Panic --- Dems are vulnerable on corporate scandals, too
07/17/02: Not Just an Average Joe: A black GOPer may give Rep. Eliot Engel a run for his money
07/15/02: The McCain Mutiny-II
07/01/02: Opening the Schoolhouse Door: The politicians can't stop school choice now
06/20/02: The Body' Bows Out --- American politics will be duller without Jesse Ventura
06/06/02: It's time for President Bush to stand up to California's senators
05/16/02: A Court Intrigue: Procedural funny business in a racial-preference case
05/14/02: Thin moral ice: New revelations from a skater's Stasi files recall an oppressive era
05/09/02: Newark, Zimbabwe!?
05/02/02: Will Terror Leave Us No Choice? Teachers unions try to use Sept. 11 as an excuse for bad schools
04/23/02: The New Nixon? Al Gore plots his comeback
04/16/02: 'I, Uh, I Have No Comment': A union plays dirty in opposing an antitax initiative
03/31/02: Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!: Filibusters can help the Senate GOP get things done
03/14/02: Red-Light District: It's time to draw the line on gerrymandering
02/21/02: Slippery Slope: Can Dick Riordan beat California's Democratic governor?
02/14/02: Reform School: The Shays-Meehan incumbency protection act
02/07/02: Arizona Highway Robbery: Politicians make a grab for campaign cash
01/31/02: Disfranchise Lassie: Even dogs can register to vote. We need election reform with teeth
01/17/02: Dr. King's Greedy Relations: Cashing in on a national hero's legacy
01/10/02: Oil of Vitriol
01/04/02: The little engine that couldn't--and the senators who don't want it to
12/24/01: E-mail and low-cost computers could be conduits for a learning revolution
12/13/01: How Gore could have really won
12/07/01: Let our students keep their cell phones
12/04/01: Why the White House gave the RNC chairman the boot
11/12/01: A Winsome Politician: She won an election in a majority-black district--and she's a Republican
11/01/01: Bush Avoids Politics at His Peril
10/30/01: Cocked Pit: Armed pilots would mean polite skies
10/24/01: Chicken Pox: Hardly anyone has anthrax, but almost everyone has anthrax anxiety
10/11/01: Will Rush Hear Again? New technology may make it possible
10/04/01: Three Kinds of pols
08/24/01: Lauch Out: Who'll replace Jesse Helms?
08/08/01: Tome Alone: Clinton's book will probably end up on the remainder table
08/03/01: Of grubbing and grabbing: Corporation$ and local government$ perfect "public use"
07/31/01: Affairs of State: The Condit case isn't just about adultery. It's about public trust and national security
07/14/01: The First Amendment survives, and everyone has someone to blame for the failure of campaign reform
07/12/01: He's Still Bread: Despite what you've heard, Gary Condit isn't toast --- yet
07/12/01: Passing Lane: Left-wing attacks help boost John Stossel's and Brit Hume's audiences
06/25/01: Man vs. Machine: New Jersey's GOP establishment is doing everything it can to stop Bret Schundler
06/15/01: A Schundler Surprise? Don't count out "the Jack Kemp of New Jersey"
06/06/01: Memo to conservatives: Ignore McCain and maybe he'll go away
05/29/01: Integrity in Politics? Hardly. Jim Jeffords is no Wayne Morse
05/22/01: Davis' answer to California's energy crisis? Hire a couple of Clinton-Gore hatchet men
05/07/01: Prematurely declaring a winner wasn't the networks' worst sin in Florida
04/23/01: How to fix the electoral process --- REALLY!
04/11/01: A conservative hero may mount a California comeback
03/30/01: Can the GOP capture the nation's most closely balanced district?
03/09/01: Terminated
03/06/01: Leave well enough alone
02/22/01: Forgetting our heroes
02/15/01: In 1978 Clinton got a close look at the dangers of selling forgiveness
02/12/01: Clinton owes the country an explanation --- and an appology
02/06/01: How Ronald Reagan changed America
01/16/01: Why block Ashcroft? To demoralize the GOP's most loyal voters
01/15/01: Remembering John Schmitz, a cheerful extremist
12/29/00: Why are all Dems libs pickin' on me?
Dubya's 48% mandate is different than Ford's
12/13/00: Gore would have lost any recount that passed constitutional muster
11/13/00: The People Have Spoken: Will Gore listen?
10/25/00: She's really a Dodger
09/28/00: Locking up domestic oil?
09/25/00: Hillary gives new meaning to a "woman with a past"
09/21/00: Ignore the Polls. The Campaign Isn't Over Yet

©2001, John H. Fund