Blue Republicans singing the blues

top 03Pity “moderate” Republicans. They are having hard times at the moment, as spotlighted in a recent New York Times feature by reporter Pam Belluck. The entire story is a master class in how to use and abuse weighted words such as “centrist” and “moderate,” even though top leaders at the newspaper know — and have said they know — that this is a sore point with readers.

The problem with the story is that the Republicans on the left are, well, not always on the left. They are on the left on some issues and on the right on others. The same thing is true with the new “conservative” Democrats who did so well in the recent elections. They are “conservative” on some issues and quite “liberal” or — alert, an old political term is making a comeback — “populist” on others.

So these politicos are red on some issues and blue on others. Does this make them “moderates”? Not really, because some issues matter more than others, especially in elite newsrooms in the Northeast.

So what is a “moderate Yankee Republican”?

Dignified in demeanor, independent in ideology and frequently blue in blood, they were politicians in the mold of Roosevelt and Rockefeller: socially tolerant, environmentally enthusiastic, people who liked government to keep its wallet close to its vest and its hands out of social issues like abortion and, in recent years, same-sex marriage.

Just in case you missed that, here is the summary statement later in the article:

In New England, Republican losses were partly because of the filtering down of anti-Bush and antiwar sentiment, but other factors played a role as well, including some that had been simmering for years, experts and local Republicans say. Walter Peterson, a former New Hampshire governor and lifelong Republican, this year became the co-chairman of Republicans for John Lynch, the incumbent Democratic governor.

“What the people want is basically to feel like the candidates of a political party are working for the people, not just following some niche issues,” Mr. Peterson said. “The old traditional Republican Party was conservative on small government, efficient government; believed in supporting people to give them a chance at life but not having people on the dole; wanted a balanced budget; and on social issues they were moderate, tolerant, live and let live. They didn’t dislike somebody from other religious viewpoints.”

He continued, “That was the old-fashioned conservative, but the word conservative today has been bastardized.”

real repSo what happened? Is this merely a North vs. South thing?

The Barry Goldwater revolution of 1964 did aim GOP efforts at coverting old Democrats in the South. But Goldwater is also a hero to the new Libertarians who, well, hate or fear religious conservatives and even religious populists who are conservatives on moral and cultural issues. As always, it is interesting that people on both sides still want to claim Ronald Reagan.

So the question is: What is the Republican Party all about?

Is it, perhaps, time for Republicans outside the South to fight back, even, as is happening in Pittsburgh, to the point of advertising against members of their own party? But note the name of the group doing the ads, Republican Majority for Choice, which, as it turns out, is an outgrowth of the former national Republican Pro-Choice Coalition.

So what is at the heart of these journalistic puzzles? Why is it hard to label the old Republicans and this small handful of new Democrats?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Brian

    Someone should ask Mr. Peterson about when exactly he thinks the “the old traditional Republican Party” was at its best (1975? 1965? 1955?), and then remind him how many Congressional seats Republicans held in whatever year he names. “Rockefeller Republicans” just don’t like the fact that the riff-raff have their say now.

  • Gary


    Good point. When pro-choice Jerry Ford was leader of the Republicans in the House, the Republicans lost election after election. The Rockefeller Republicans pretend that they are winners, when in fact the Democrats beat them silly.

  • Larry Rasczak

    I do find it ironic that these “blue blood” Republicans lay claim to Reagan when, if I recall correctly, they fought him tooth and nail all through his term.

    I can’t speak for all Libertarians, but I just moved from the G.O.P. to the Libertarians (Libertarians for Life actually) and I do NOT “hate or fear religious conservatives and even religious populists who are conservatives on moral and cultural issues”.

    I moved because I got sick of the GOP following the “Know Nothing Party” line and going for that all important inbred racist demographic, on immigration. (I think they are trying to re-work the old song “No Irish Need Apply” to cover Mexicans, but they can’t get the rhymes right.) I moved because I think Harret Meyers was as deserving of a Supreme Court nomination as the lawyers I see on late night T.V. asking if I’ve been injured. I moved because, as a religious conservative, I felt I was being patronized by the G.O.P. When people spoke of expecting progress on social issues from a GOP House, a GOP Senate, a GOP White House, and a (presumably) GOP Court… I expected progress on ending abortion, or restoring school prayer, not just highly televised gay baiting.

    Just because I don’t want a nanny state and think Rumsfled has all the strategic genius of Gen. George Pickett does not mean I think it is ok to kill babies and euthanize old people. I think all humans have inalienable rights, even unpopular ones who can’t fight back and don’t know “the right sort of people”. I think these rights include both the right to burn a flag and a right to live through all three trimesters without having your brain sucked out. I think it is obscene that FEMA wound up giving the Katrina victims 18 months of “temporary” free housing assistance, (and then got sued for cutting it off “without giving a reason”!) but that doesn’t mean I think no-fault divorce is a good thing. I support both the right to keep and bear arms AND letting kids pray in school.

  • webwalker


    Thats a fascinating litany of reasons to walk away from a political party.

    Now…What the hell does this have to do with how religion news is covered? This isn’t a yahoo group, its a serious discussion among reporters and media watchers.

  • tmatt

    Hey Larry, I’m with Webwalker on this one.

    Try to focus on the news elements of this stuff. Lord knows there are enough of them.

    Just read those quotes from the TIMES again!