Friday, August 05, 2005

Gee, I Didn't Realize I Was So Despised

The Radical Centrist asserts, and Ambivablog/The Yellow Line concurs, that centrists take more flack from the left than the right. Is this true? I'm not so sure.

I can only operate off personal narrative here. I'm a centrist-liberal, who resides in a very liberal locale (Bethesda, MD), and attends a very liberal school (Carleton College). The particular centrist positions I take are that I support the war in Iraq, straddle the fence on abortion, and generally believe in an aggressive and hawkish foreign policy (albeit one that stressed democracy). So basically, its not like I'm lacking in ways to piss hardcore liberals off. Yet I've never really felt uncomfortable amongst my liberal peers for holding these positions. Sometimes after mentioning them, I have to inform them that I actually am a Democrat, just a moderate one. But I've yet to meet the reflexive hostility that seems to be what people are talking about when they refer to what the stalwarts supposedly feel about the moderates (for example, I've never been called a traitor).

I think what is obviously true is that the left is more tolerant of rightwingers turned centrist (for example, Andrew Sullivan and John Cole) than they are of liberals who appear to be drifting off to the center (for example, the DLC). For example, I've seen The Daily Kos link approvingly to John Cole on several occasions, while bashing the DLC on, well, more than several occasions (despite the fact that the DLC is probably more liberal than Mr. Cole). The reverse is also true--Republican partisans are far more kind supposed moderate Democrats than they are to moderate Republicans. This makes perfect sense, after all: we like people who seem to be moving in our direction, and are upset with those who appear to be moving away from us. But I don't see any partisan slant to the phenomena.

As a general matter, I'd think that moderates are more welcome in the Democratic party than in the Republican party, and I think that bipartisanship is slightly more common their as well (though in today's environment, it's rare anywhere). For example, while I've seen bona fide liberals praising Bush (for specific policies, of course) on several occasions, I have yet to see any comparable praise from a mainline Republican commentator of a mainline Democrat. The moderate wing of the Democratic party is far more powerful than it's equivalent within the Republicans (DLC stomps Rockefeller Republicans). How else do you explain pro-life Harry Reid (and his predecessor for that matter, Tom Daschle)? Neither of them are all that liberal, objectively. Nancy Pelosi certainly is, but Steny Hoyer isn't. What you have for Democrats seems to be a fair mix between the left and center of the party. The big Republicans in congress, by contrast, are Tom DeLay, Roy Blunt, Rick Santorum, Jon Kyl, and Bill Frist--all toward the right edge of the party, and only Frist even sporadically nodding to the center. Moderate Republicans never even see the light of leadership day--remember how Arlen Specter was humiliated before finally getting the chairmanship of the Judiciary committee (which is just because of seniority, anyway)? The other moderates, like Collins, Snowe, and Chaffee are completely out of the loop (though again, only Voinovich has been labeled a traitor) Finally, I think it is telling that more moderate Republicans appear to be bolting the party (even if only temporarily) than moderate Democrats doing the same. Sullivan, Daniel Drezner, libertarian Jacob Levy, among others, all voted for John Kerry in 2004. Senator Lincoln Chafee refused to say he was voting for Bush, and of course, Jim Jeffords defected precisely because he was fed up with being abused by his own party. With the exception of Zell Miller I have seen almost no similar crossovers from the Democratic party.

So while I think that there is a lot of illwill at the extremes to the center on both sides, I think it is descriptively inaccurate to say that it resides on the left. At best, it is an equal opportunity offender, and at worst it is a problem more acute on the right.


cakreiz said...

I agree with you that RINOs are out of the loop in the GOP- just as DINOs are out of the Dem leadership loop. Dems may be more tolerant of moderates on a personal level- but not on a political one. Moderates have no meaningful say in Dem presidential politics- as most recently demonstated by Kerry's nomination. Kerry is a centrist in the Dem wing of the Dem party- as amazing as that sounds- much as Bush represents the center of the GOP. In the meantime, moderates in both parties are looked down upon as necessary evils.

David Schraub said...

Except that moderates ARE in Democratic leadership. Witness Reid, Daschle, and Hoyer. Indeed, if anything the Democratic leadership in congress leans to the party's center, with the true liberals, outside of Pelosi, being on the outside (this is why Kos hates the Democratic Washington Establishment so much).

And I never bought into the "Kerry is a raving leftist" myth, so telling me he represents the center is no big shock.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you. Not just the big blog writers, but also their constituents, are not particularly polite on the far-left. Littlegreenfootballs may fisk the living crap out of a centrist blogger, but Kos diaries are more likely to call the centrists idiots and under the influence of the enemy party than anyone in the LGF comments.

That said, my viewpoint obviously obscures things somewhat. It's quite likely I'd see Ann Coulter beating on McCain to be a lot more reasonable than Kos beating on Miller. Simply put, I'd agree with more Coulter said.

But from what I've seen, most Republicans stick with the "It's a good concept, buuuut..." response to moderates within their own party, while a lot of Democrats are willing to START with ad hominem attacks. Centrist gay/lesbian/bisexual bloggers, for example, seem to be in more danger of having it rubbed in their face by the left than the right. I'd say the same goes for centrist gun owners.

I'd also like to know why Democrat's being less willing to skip out from their party is a sign of Democratic friendliness to centrists. It seems to me that people like Jim Jeffords would be a lot less willing to skip across if they were at risk of a sudden surge of offensive commentary.

David Schraub said...

We're all slaves to our perceptions. I lean left, so I'm more likely to find grains of truth in leftwing critiques of centrist commentators. I'm sure the same (reversed) is true for those who lean right. There is, I'm sure, a degree of self-selection. I read mostly moderate blogs, with a smattering of liberal blogs thrown in, but very few outright conservative blogs. Hence, I'm more likely to see "evil conservative wingnut blasts anyone who disagrees with him", go "tut-tut" and move on. I tend not to read the blogs of the bona fide flamers themselves, so the only way I get to it is via links of others.

One thing that makes me skeptical, though, is that when I read the moderate blogs themselves, I tend to see more cases where it is conservatives attacking rather than liberals. I co-blog at TMV, and while Mr. Gandelman takes great pains to note that he gets flamed by both sides, in terms of what he actually links to I see more conservative blasts than liberal ones. Same thing over at Andrew Sullivan (who, from what I can tell, is loathed at the moment by many conservatives).

I haven't seen liberal blogs "rub in the face" centrist blogs sexuality. That is something I have yet to see--indeed, the only time I see it is when I see conservative blogs make an issue of Andrew Sullivan's orientation. But maybe I'm looking in the wrong places. It does seem counter-intuitive though, given that liberals tend pro-gay rights and conservatives tend to oppose them (and that the biggest gay bashers in America, such as the FRC, reside on the right). Centrist gun owning, I have no idea--I don't really follow gun debates.

Finally, I'm doubtful that moderate liberals are sticking in their party out of fear. What's the worst that happens if they bolt? They get hated by some of the people they didn't like anyway--but that's okay, because they don't have to deal with them anymore! Republicans will welcome the defector with open arms (see Zell Miller). It's just like what happened with Jeffords--he felt abused, he left, Republicans frothed with rage and Democrats cheered. As long as party whips don't start assassinating strayers, I don't think "fear will keep them in line" (to quote Grand Moff Tarkin).

cakreiz said...

Moderates aren't the Democratic leadership. Reid may be a moderate legislative leader but he's hardly leading the national charge. Harry's not going to be brokering the 08 convention any more than Daschle brokered prior ones. Ted Kennedy's still the elder statesman. He's not a moderate.

cakreiz said...

In fairness, Ted's not going to broker the 08 convention either. But Ted's more representative of the Dem center than Harry is, that's all. As for your original point, Reps aren't tolerant of moderates, for sure. My view is that Dems treat moderates like me with benign neglect.

Anonymous said...

What does it mean to say that Reid and Daschle are "pro-life"? It doesn't appear to affect their voting records; in particular, it hasn't stopped them from leading the Democratic caucus from filibustering judicial nominees precisely because those nominees might be opposed to Roe.