By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

An endangered New England species

The moderate New England Republican is all but extinct following yesterday’s defeat of New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu and Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays. In the long run, this won’t be good for the country.

How can you have bipartisanship when the Democratic and Republican parties are hardening into exclusively liberal and conservative camps? Answer: You can’t. Ironically, the conservative Democrat has made something of a comeback in recent years, exemplified by the rise of Virginia Sen. Jim Webb. But they need counterparts on the other side of the aisle.

Which is why I’m glad that Maine Sen. Susan Collins won re-election. Collins and Maine’s other Republican senator, Olympia Snowe, are the last of what was once a pretty common species.

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


A day to savor the symbolism


Emanuel’s forced Hamlet act


  1. Steve

    (from something I posted over at Keller’s place)Though I am a life-long Democrat, I keep hoping something animates the Republican party in this state. There is a great need for fiscal discipline here, and I don’t see how it can come about without a functioning second party. My (completely unsolicited, outsider, and possibly uninformed) suggestion for the Republicans – get out of people’s bedrooms and their private lives and go full on for fiscal conservatism. Get specific about a smaller state government – what programs and agencies should be eliminated. Analyze the budget and make specific recommendations for cost savings. Question 1 failed because there was no specific plan presented that showed how the state would run on a much smaller budget.

  2. Dunwich

    The GOP convention appeared to be, what election night shows it has evolved into. A primarily southern Christian conservative party. When New England GOP’ers can’t support that ilk comfortably (including the big-war,big-spend guy in the White House)candidates are going to have problems. It killed Chafee, Shays,and would have croaked Romney. Do we have the same bipartisan concerns in Tx,Ok,Ak,Ms,Fl? I doubt it.

  3. boston unitarian

    Oh for a “radical moderate” like Elliot Rihardson again. Many thanks for this post.

  4. boston unitarian

    That would, of course, be Elliot Richardson…

  5. Michael Pahre

    Conservative Democrats are pretty much defined by Scoop Jackson and Sam Nunn. Jim Webb isn’t quite the same, although I’ll give you partial credit. (Webb would’ve made a more compelling VP choice for Obama, but that’s another argument.)Likewise, I do not believe that you can imply that Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are liberal, when they are actually moderate.While some people might say these are just stupid labels we put on them, respondents to polls also self-describe themselves with the liberal/moderate/conservative categories.Not long ao, presidential opinion polls separated liberal Republicans from moderate Republicans. But now there are so few that, for statistical reasons, they are now lumped together as a single liberal/moderate Republican category. But sufficient numbers of Democrats still describe themselves to pollsters as either moderate or conservative, so both categories remain in the poll results.I think that the polling categories are a direct indication of how one party has more narrowly-defined itself than the other.

  6. Doug Shugarts

    I heartily second Steve’s points.The GOP has become a regional party by pandering to hard-right religious types, and has totally abandoned restraint, in approach and execution, as a fundamental, guiding principle. True conservatives understand that the primary task of government is to set limits, an idea foreign to those in the GOP base who demand adherence to a narrow, bigoted ideology.The Globe recently published a long-overdue article on Rockefeller republicans which contains this description of a conservative tradition that is all but extinct:The “Rockefellers” are generally known for being tight-fisted with the public’s money, for strong environmental policies, and for holding liberal views on social issues. They generally favor abortion rights and keeping religion out of politics, two points of disagreement with the GOPs religious right.

  7. Mark

    What Steve suggested is not a Republican, it’s a Libertarian. The problem with a singular focus on economic issues is that we actually believe in the other legs of the stool as well. Social conservatism is not our attempt at seeking political power, it’s us trying to be true to our convictions. I’d also like to add that a typical Massachusetts Republican is about as moderate as it gets without being a Democrat (see Weld, Bill).Massachusetts Republicans have, throughout history, tended to be more Libertarian in nature anyway.

  8. Jp

    I got looked at funny, when I said something similar last night at Club Cafe.Me: “Damn it, Shays lost.”Friend: “So? He’s a republican.”Me: “Yeah, but he’s a moderate republican that we can work with and we don’t have 60 seats.”Always nice to see I’m on the same page as you guys.

  9. O-FISH-L

    I think the MA legislature as a Democrat bastion is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. For starters, $55,000 for what is supposedly a full-time job with all the scrutiny, glare and againt-the-odds campaigning every two years is not enough to cause a Republican citizen to abandon a more lucrative career and more private lifestyle. Ideally, we’d have a part-time, unpaid citizen legislature but that ain’t happening anytime soon.Thus, the MA legislature is filled mainly with the self-employed (lawyers etc.) or the person whose only job is being a legislator. Now for Republicans that are self-employed and childless (Sen. Bob Hedlund, diesel mechanic, Sen. Rich Tisei, Realtor) it can work, but how many people who aren’t self-employed can afford to do the job? Keep in mind that no Republicans are chairmen and only a handful are in “leadership” so there isn’t much opportunity to better the base of $55k. So who, especially parents, could campaign for a year without pay and then take the job that pays $55k a year, especially if you’re doing better than that elsewhere with job security?When I think of the local Republican demographic I think of financial people and cops, which is another problem. Big financial companies like Fidelity, and all law enforcement agencies regardless of size, have strict policies against running for partisan office, so that eliminates another batch of potential Republican candidates Recalling the MA Republican revolution of 1990, one of the 17 GOP Senators who nearly toppled Billy Bulger was the late Police Officer / Senator Charlie Shannon (R-Winchester), whose candidacy was only possible after he had retired from Lexington PD. So when you’re vastly outnumbered in party registration and your only hope for candidates is limited to kids out of college, retirees and the self-employed, it’s a challenge. Add to that, legislative races coinciding with the Presidency every four years with the Democrat all but certain to win the Presidency here, and it’s even more tough.One bright spot, absolute power tends to resuscitate the minority party so whether it’s the MA Republican revolution of 1990, the national Republican legislative sweeps of 1994 or the national Democrat midterm sweeps in 2006, 2010 is likely to be a GOP year.

  10. Amused

    Bipartisanship is dead, but in many ways it’s just an excuse for playing it safe.The worst is yet to come.Expect the Republicans to examine every person any Obama appointee has ever served with on a board, whether it be Little League baseballs or Common Cause in a quest for dirt. Prediction: There will be an early controversy over an appointment, based on allegations similar to the Ayers matter. Their only recourse right now is smear, smear, smear and we know they’ll do it. The Republicans will go all-in on their effort to take down some high-level appointment simply to prevent Obama from getting a post-election bounce in popularity. It will be dirty, nasty and largely irrelevant.

  11. jvwalt

    Having lived in NH from 2000-06, I can’t agree with the characterization of John Sununu as a moderate. He ran for Senate in 2002 as a pretty standard, off-the-rack conservative. During his time in office, he would occasionally stray from Bushian orthodoxy, but for the most part he went along with the crowd. He deserves some credit for sometimes opposing the worst excesses of the War on Terror and the TSA, but otherwise he’s no moderate. I certainly wouldn’t put him in the same category as Snowe, Collins, Chafee, Jeffords, the Rockefellers, et al. And, especially since he barely eked out a victory in 2002 thanks to some really nasty negative campaigning and the illegal blocking of Democratic vote banks, I have a hard time seeing him as anything other than a creation of the Bush era.

  12. Dan Kennedy

    Michael: I put Collins and Snowe in the category of “moderate Republicans.” Not sure why you would say I called them liberals.

  13. Mark

    Amused, have you ever considered that your hyper-partisanship might also be contributing to the lack of bipartisanship.Predicting that all Republicans can do is, “smear, smear, smear” might seem like a fact to you – but an unbiased look at the facts will probably prove that it’s politics, and both sides are playing the game.Stop reading the Huffington Post, TPM and Daily Kos as your primary news sources and you’ll find out that George Bush and Republicans aren’t as bad as those bipartisan thinkers like Markos make you think they are.

  14. Ani

    The commissioner of social security (Michael Astrue) was a Massachusetts Republican — I have no idea how many other Mass. Republicans got siphoned off to Washington.

  15. Mark

    Also, it’s a nomination fight, it’s supposed to be tough. Ask Linda Chavez, Gale Norton and John Ashcroft how much fun they had during their nomination battles. Politics ain’t beanbag.And I do think it would be problematic if Barack Obama tried to nominate someone with a background “similar to the Ayers matter.” The man tried to blow up the Pentagon – if something similar to that isn’t enough to disqualify you from a cabinet position, I fear for our country.

  16. Dan Kennedy

    Michael: One other thing — I would have loved to see Jim Webb on the ticket. I imagine the problem is that though Webb and Biden are both prone to veer off message, Webb has more gravitas. I’m sure we would have been seeing stories about Obama and Webb not being on the same page.

  17. mike_b1

    Dan, I can see where Michael may have thought gotten “liberal Republicans” from what you wrote.You called Webb a conservative Democrat, then said conservative Democrats need “counterparts on the other side of the aisle,” and followed that by the references to Collins and Snowe as “the last of what was once a pretty common species.”While Collins and Snowe are clearly moderates, the way you framed your argument *suggests* they are the opposites of Webb, ergo liberal Republicans.I didn’t read it that way, but I could see how someone could.

  18. Emily

    I was under the impression that the Democrats were, in some ways, increasingly conservative on certain fiscal and social issues. I think the Dems are now the big tent party, and that’s not bad for the country if they take in and respond to a broad spectrum of concerns.And the GOP will rise again – it’s just a question of when.

  19. Doug Shugarts

    Mark: Politics aside, the damage done to the GOP under Bush is staggering. After eight years of severe mismanagement of the war, the economy and the budget coupled with Bush’s disgraceful response to hurricane Katrina, much of the electorate now believes that ‘Republican’ and ‘incompetent’ are interchangeable terms. His loathsome stance on torture — and the shushed acquiescence among many Republicans in the face of complete moral failure — has fixed worldwide perception of the party as depraved and criminally irresponsible. As long as cultural conservatives place strict adherence to far-right ideology over restraint, pragmatism and adherence to the rule of law as fundamental tenets of party leadership, the GOP will remain in the desert.

  20. Amused

    Michael, the Republican stragegy in the late campaign was simple. Smear, smear, smear, blame the “Liberal Media,” smear, smear, smear. The strategy now is to prevent Obama from developing traction and they’ll do that by innuendo and slander and will aim high and wide in the effort to divert attention from policy. The right wing nutbags are calling Obama an affirmative action president, claiming that race was the issue that made him president, even distancing themselves from McCain’s conciliatory concession speech; mocking and criticizing black americans for being emotional that a person of African-American descent is president of a nation where, 150 years ago, he could have been bought and sold at auction and would not even have had the right to vote. This, too, in a nation where less than 45 years ago– about the lifetime of a middle-aged citizen — he could have been denied access to public institutions, including schools and still denied the right to vote thorough unfair registration systems and poll taxes.Then there’s the blaming of the “liberal media” no, wait, now it’s the “mainstream media” for “trying to take Palin down,” when it turns out, this bedmate of a member of a secessionist party was treated with kid globes, since we now hear she couldn’t name the countries in North America, believed that Africa was a country, and blamed others for her poor interview preparation. But any criticism of Palin during the campaign was equated with a media plot to discredit her. As the truth comes out, we learn she did a damn good job discrediting herself.Clearly, the Republican right hopes Obama is a failure — and to nurture that dream, they have to hope the country faces all kinds of problems ahead. The fact remains, on election night, Obama reached out to those who supported the defeated candidate, and the right-wing kooks reacted with derision and insults.

  21. Ani

    Amused,I have to say that I thought McCain’s concession speech made it sound as if Obama’s victory was just an African-American thing. I attributed it to bad grace, rather than to McCain’s being a “right wing nutbag” or even a racist, but I actually thought Bush made a much better (even moving) congratulatory speech.

  22. O-FISH-L

    Amused: "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."Was this statement made by:a) a "right wing nutbag" orb) a Democrat former US Rep. & VP nominee?Ding, ding, ding. And who's doing the smearing again? Pot, kettle?

  23. mike_b1

    o-fish: Great to see you. I was worried you had jumped off the Tobin.How’d you like Chris Matthews retort after Tom DeLay bitterly complained about the coming Democratic control: “I love the way you hate.”

  24. O-FISH-L

    Mike, you must have me mistaken for someone else. I was the first to check in on election night to offer my unequivocal congratulations to Obama and his supporters and I’ve posted at my regular pace ever since. Trust that I will show President Obama the respect that liberals refused to show Bush these last eight years. Although I supported McCain-Palin, the election of a black man to the Presidency is the culmination of the tireless efforts of Republicans from Lincoln to Dr. King to Colin Powell, all of whom laid the ground work. Tobin Bridge? Not on a historic night that was the product of centuries of hard work by members of my party. That Obama embraced tax cuts, the death penalty, gun rights, traditional marriage, nuclear power, the right to life for botched abortion babies and so many other GOP ideals along the way makes it all the sweeter. Cheers!

  25. Suldog

    As Mark said (concerning Steve's & Doug's comments), a fiscal conservative without a conservative social agenda is basically a Libertarian. That's how I define myself (when I feel a need to do so.)If the Libertarian Party ever gets its head out of its own arse, and comes to some realization of how the political game is actually played, they could give the R's a run for their money in this state. I'm not holding my breath, though.

  26. Doug Shugarts

    Gee, o-fish-l, Howard Dean was right: Trent Lott really is Martin Luther King…

  27. Steve

    suldog – it’s (only) a labeling problem, I think. Weld was the right model, and it didn’t hurt that he was socially to the left of his opponent.Yes, the Libertarians have to embrace the politics of the possible and let go of their ideological purity.But once they do that, the Mass. Republicans are a marginal party – what better time to coopt them? Dump the social conservatives (or at least push their agenda well out of view), do the legwork that the Question 1 people didn’t do, and put forth some real fiscal conservative candidates with specific ideas. They are out there.

  28. mike_b1

    O-Fish, yeah, I’m sure GOP members everywhere are rejoicing.Or they will as soon as they put down their hanging ropes. The GOP is the new minority. Not to worry, we’ll be sure to throw you a bone every once in awhile, like a new missile system to build at Redstone in Alabama. Call it “Compassionate Liberalism.”

  29. Aaron Read

    Is it my imagination, or has the word “Republican” quietly become associated with the exact same stigma that “liberal” was tagged with for the past twenty years. Suddenly it just seems like it’s a dirty word, that nothing good can come from it…even though on an intellectual level we all know that not EVERYTHING that the word “Republican” means is automatically a bad thing, just like how “liberal” wasn’t, either.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén