Joe Klein: The Center Is The Place To Be. In the Senate, A Centrist Mandate

Time Magazine has a nice piece this morning on how centrism won this midterm election and how only centrism can effectively govern from here on. Notice they, too, credit Rahm Emanuel and Charles Schumer…

This was a big deal. Certainly, it was the end of George W. Bush’s radical experiment in partisan governance. It might have been even bigger than that: the end of the conservative pendulum swing that began with Ronald Reagan’s revolution. Not only did the Democrats lay a robust whupping on the Republicans in the midterm elections, but–far worse–the President was forced into a tacit acknowledgment that the defining policy of his Administration, the war in Iraq, was failing. In 1994, when Bill Clinton lost both houses of Congress, he merely replaced his consultants and, liberated from the liberal wing of his party, sailed into the enforced moderation of divided government. Last week George W. Bush replaced Donald Rumsfeld, the blustery symbol of American arrogance overseas–and, after six years of near total control at home, had to adjust to a situation in which his vision had been rejected by the voters and his power seriously truncated. Rumsfeld was replaced by Robert Gates, who had been a junior associate on the foreign policy team of President George H.W. Bush and was well schooled in the cautious “realism” that marked the reign of Bush the Elder.

Two points of interest here. One being that Bush’s “radical experiment in partisan governance is over, and so is, perhaps, Reaganism. The second one is the reminder (to me, at least) that Bill Clinton didn’t become BILL CLINTON until he was freed from the liberal wing of his party and was able to govern with his “Third Way” approach. Had the Democrats not lost in 1994 (and I’m not saying I’m glad they did, I’m just making a point), then Clinton might have fallen into the same partisan game Bush did. I call it governance “of the base, for the base, and by the base.”

But even now, there are those on the left who want exactly that. With the Democrats now setting the national agenda, calls are coming from the dark hallways of the left for a totally “progressive” agenda that may only be approved of by less the 20% of the American people.

In fact, if there was a common strand in last week’s Democratic victories and Republican defeats, it was the ascendancy of realists. The architects of the Democratic victory, Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Rahm Emanuel, had calculated with cold-eyed efficiency which candidates the party would support, regardless of the extent of their orthodoxy. On the Republican side, realists seemed to be taking over the national security apparatus–even if was not yet clear that the President would follow their advice.

…for the sake of argument and in the hope that sanity will prevail, let me make a mild case for optimism…

First, there is the muscular realism of the Democrats who ran the election campaigns, Schumer and Emanuel. They chose their candidates on pragmatism, not principle. Yes, many of the winners tended to be moderates, but that’s because this was an election, especially on the House side, waged in moderate districts. In some cases, realism meant supporting the more liberal candidate. In Ohio, Reid and Schumer made a stark decision to force the attractive if inexperienced Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett out of the race and to support Congressman Sherrod Brown, a feisty paleoliberal whose vehement protectionism matched well with Ohio’s economic desperation. In Pennsylvania, Reid and Schumer went with a pro-life candidate, Bob Casey Jr., despite shrieks from the party’s pro-choice base. The common denominator wasn’t liberalism or moderation but the ability to win. The question now is whether “winning” means blocking the President or demonstrating the ability to govern. It probably means a little of both, but I suspect the Democrats will be better served by proving they have the maturity to do the latter.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

For Democrats, who swept back into power in both the House and Senate last week, the pledge to govern in a bipartisan way may not be postvictory rhetoric. At least in the Senate, it’s a mandate of the math.

While an effective 51-49 majority allows Democrats to organize the Senate – Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernard Sanders of Vermont ran as independents – it is still nine votes short of the 60 votes now needed to advance controversial bills on issues ranging from taxes to the Iraq war.

The terms of the Democrats’ narrow victory make a politics of the center even more imperative. Most of the new Democrats in the Senate won by running as moderates or fiscal conservatives.

“They were carefully chosen not to reflect the liberal mainstream of the Democratic Party, but to reflect the more conservative mainstream of their states,” says Rhodes Cook, a political analyst in Washington.

“It might be a return to the days when Democrats were technically a majority party, but when you put Republicans together with southern Democrats, they were the majority,” he adds. more…

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