Pity "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."
So 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?