Wednesday, April 29, 2009

April 29: A Little To the Left, Please

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The Broadway production of Irving Berlin's "Call Me Madam" had a song called "The Washington Square Dance." Berlin's lyrics included "Republicans over to the right, Democrats over to the left. The left meet the right and don't explode/Try to find the middle of the road."

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania knew how to do the dance. But his frustration that his fellow Republicans no longer do finally caught up with him yesterday. Specter jumped to the Democratic Party.

A lot of Specter's political stances are not in keeping with the Democratic Party line, so he had to be pretty upset to make the leap. Pennsylvania's Republicans have pretty much gone the way of the G.O.P. in other parts of the country - increasingly right-wing, intolerant and strident, and thus out of touch with a majority of Americans.

This at a time when President Barack Obama is popular, but his fellow Democratic leaders - U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - are not. Plus, Pelosi and Reid are not up to the quality of some of their Democratic congressional predecessors - notably Tip O'Neill and Mike Mansfield.

So there is opportunity, but the Republicans have not yet figured out how to exploit it. They can start by going back to their roots. The Republicans were the party of fiscal conservatism, which worked best when President Ronald Reagan was delivering the message.

The social conservatism issue started to creep up when the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority backed Reagan in the 1980 election. It's become part of the standard party line. But with shifting national views and the hypocrisy of politicians like Sen. Larry "I'm Not Gay" Craig of Idaho or Alaska Gov. Sarah "I believe in abstinence, but my teenage daughter is an unwed mom" Palin, it means a lot less. It also means a lot less if Republicans are unwilling to compromise with Obama. One of the hallmarks of Reagan's success was that he was willing to work with O'Neill and the Democrats.

Efforts like the April 15 "tea parties" to protest Obama's stimulus package and work on high-tech campaigning may make a bit of traction. Better still will be politicians willing to open their eyes, ears and minds to new ideas. That kind of thinking helped the Democrats come back from the abyss. It will help the Republicans, too, if they're willing to embrace it.

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