By Nick DAngelo
“Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice” was only part of the crowd-pleasing reminder Senator Barry Goldwater issued as he accepted the 1964 Republican nomination for president in San Francisco. Goldwater had finished a grueling campaign against moderate northeasterner Nelson A. Rockefeller and would go on to champion an agenda of far-right conservatism in the November general election. But the “extremism” purported by Goldwater half a century ago is the moderation of today. Similarly, today’s extremism is certainly a vice.
Last Tuesday, May 8, four votes across the nation rocked a political establishment that has been shaken uncontrollably over the past four years. Voters in Wisconsin, West Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana have once again demonstrated that modern politics is anything but predictable.
West Virginia and North Carolina, while perhaps even more exotic than the others, may not have far reaching effects in terms of extremist ideology.
After all, as wrong as it may be, North Carolina became the 30th state to amend its constitution against same-sex marriage, and while Barack Obama nearly losing the West Virginia primary to an incarcerated felon is beyond embarrassing, it’s still West Virginia.
First, observe Indiana. 2009 marked the rise of the insurgent Tea Party as Utah senator Bob Bennett lost the Republican nomination to the younger, less experienced and farther-right Mike Lee. In 2010, Republicans lost any chance of regaining a Senate majority because of a far right hijacking. Delaware, Nevada and Colorado were all Republican favored until an aura of social conservatism swept grassroots activists into a fury of “establishment” bashing.
The same thing happened in Indiana on Tuesday. Richard Lugar, a 36-year veteran of the U.S. Senate and the body’s highest authority on foreign relations, lost an embarrassing challenge from Indiana’s little known state treasurer, Richard Mourdock.
Several elements of the Lugar race were unique—such as Lugar not residing in the state and not taking the campaign seriously until the 11th hour, but that won’t quell the consequences of the primary.
The effects on our nation’s highest deliberative chamber in 2013 are unmistakable. The moderate titans that once helped guide legislation through the Senate are now gone. With the retirements of centrist members from both sides of the aisle, including Republican Olympia Snowe, Democrat Ben Nelson and former Democrat Joe Lieberman, the cooperative nature that is central to legislative efficiency is eliminated.
Instead, the U.S. Senate is now controlled by the polarizing voices of Rand Paul and Barbara Boxer. There is no doubt that the shouting-match rhetoric of Mr. Mourdock is no substitute for the cool wisdom of one of America’s most respected statesmen.
And while voters cast ballots of passion in Indiana, just a few miles northwest they did the exact opposite. The recall election of Wisconsin’s union-busting Governor Scott Walker has been the talk of politicos for months. But the question of whether his challenger would be labor-backed Kathleen Falk or political veteran Tom Barrett remained unanswered until Tuesday.
Despite strong endorsements and support from labor unions across the state and nation, the initiators of the recall to begin with, Falk went on to a double-digit defeat against Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee and 2010 gubernatorial nominee.
While this may be viewed by some as Democrats voting with their brains instead of their hearts, it more appropriately demonstrates the dwindling power of big labor. Political machines of yore, and still powerful in states like New York, the unions have been unable to spin the common sense reforms of Governor Walker.
Goldwater told his convention delegates that extremism was not to be feared. But his focus always remained on the containment of the federal government. The new extremism, so vibrant in Indiana and Wisconsin, is something different. It refuses compromise, supports blind partisanship and, in some respects, has a near zealous stance on some of our nation’s most pressing issues.
Cooperation does not mean compromise, but it does require civility and conversation. And only through effective cooperation can our nation achieve progress.