Paul Nussbaum pens an article for the Philadelphia Inquirer titled Pragmatic Politics of Indiana. It might have been subtitled, “There’s Nothing Wrong With Kansas, What’s The Matter With Politics.”
The article details the failings of Democrats at trying to connect with mainstream voters in the heartland. It could just as easily have looked at the problems of our political system and how the real world views politics.
“You want to disavow labels and project centrist attitudes,” said former congressman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat who represented a southern Indiana district for 34 years, then served as vice chairman of the 9/11 commission. “Hoosiers pride themselves on being people of moderation and common sense.”
What plays well here: God, country, civility, and an economy of emotion and pocketbook. Hunting, fishing, and auto racing are almost as popular as basketball.
The same article could have been written about New Mexico – a state where Democrat Bill Richardson and Republican Pete Domenici both pull nearly 70% of the vote – though you might have to drop auto racing in favor of the red/green debate or cock fighting.
How do people of opposite parties pull staggering figures in the same state? The trick isn’t “projecting centrist attitudes”. It’s representing centrist beliefs.
That’s the trouble with our current system of electoral politics and congressional redistricting. We have marginalized the centrist voter and created a system evenly split between the radical left and the radical right with an ever-narrowing cluster of seats that are held by the best type of politicians (ones who vote based on the merits of a law, not their narrow-minded ideology).
Rep. Heather Wilson in New Mexico is a good example. Sadly, her district has never really warmed to her. Her predecessor, Steve Schiff, was my political hero. He was a true statesman and the district loved him. When he passed, Heather took his place in the district, but not in the eyes of the people.
That’s unfortunate, because Heather has actually been a good congresswoman in the Schiff tradition. She’s guided by GOP principles of responsible, limited government, but she’s also guided by what’s right for the district. She has been the President’s ally when he was right, and his critic when he was wrong.
The Democrats, however, will attempt to portray her as a rabid ideologue. They’ll attack her as a pawn of the Administration. Her biggest problem, however, is not one of ideology, it’s one of personality. She comes across as disconnected. She’s too removed from those she represents. As the Nussbaum article states:
People will never vote for you if they think you’re looking down your nose at them.
Heather, accurate or not, comes across that way to people.
The Democrats may well be successful at removing her from office this year. Unfortunately, if they do, they will replace her with a Democrat party hack that will fit the Pelosi mold more than the Schiff/Domenici tradition. Patsy Madrid has been running for office since New Mexico was a state. I think this is her 30th or 40th campaign. I’m 36 years old and my earliest memory as a human is Patsy running for office.
Replacing Heather with Patsy would be the equivalent of replacing Joe Lieberman with Tom DeLay. That, however, is the world we have created by allowing those who have power to determine how best to draw district lines.
When parties control redistricting, their goal is to make as many safe seats as possible. That creates an inherent political imbalance, however. If the seat is perfectly safe, and you do not have to fear voter backlash, your positions become extreme. Fighting over a declining number of seats in order to gain or keep power, political parties slander the real centrists and paint them as panting ideologues in order to win.
We have created a political system that no longer recognizes compromise and no longer represents the will of the people.
We have created a system where the true zealots are ignored, and the moderates are painted as radicals.
That’s the real story Nussbaum’s article tells, though he may not have known it. Though the article reads like a primer to teach liberal Democrats how to behave centrist in order to get elected, what he has really written is a eulogy for responsible centrist government.