If you think that the intense polarization in the U.S. Senate couldn’t get any worse-think again. Both parties have laid out their battle plans; the Democrats want to maintain their razor-thin majority, while the Republicans have adopted a “finish the job” attitude. The losers in all of this? Moderates. So, it’s no surprise that eleven Senate incumbents are retiring this year. Of the members of this unprecedented mass exodus, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) best described the situation when she said on Feb. 28: “Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term.” Indeed. Which is why Ms. Snowe, along with Herb Kohl (D-WI), Jim Webb (D-VA), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Kent Conrad (D-SD), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) will all be leaving the Senate, with no guarantee of return. One more, Richard Lugar (R-IN) was rejected by his own party in a bitter primary fight with Richard Mourdock, the well-funded and well-endorsed Tea Party insurgent. Chances are, had the remaining ten Senators not announced their retirements, some of them might be in Mr. Lugar’s position as well. However, this article is going to examine two Senate moderates who are leaving on their own terms and the radical partisans who might replace them in January.
1. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)
She made history as the first-and so far, only-woman to be elected to represent the Lone Star State in the Senate. Ever since then, Ms. Hutchison has been unexpectedly moderate, considering her position as a Senator from deep-red Texas. Serving on the Senate Appropriations Committee and several of its key subcommittees, Kay Bailey Hutchison has been described through GovTrack’s analysis of bill sponsorship as being a “moderate Republican leader.” [See: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/kay_bailey_hutchison/300054.] Her likely replacement is the opposite. Ted Cruz, former Solicitor General in Texas, did not win the GOP nomination to take her soon-vacant seat by being a moderate. With the help of endorsements from Tea Party icons like Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, and Jim DeMint, Cruz held off a victory by then-frontrunner David Dewhurst during the May 29 primary, only to absolutely demolish him at the runoff polls on July 31, with over 56% of the vote. Cruz immense support among Tea Party super-PACs and donors implies much about the attitude he would bring to the already polarized Senate, and we can assume that his approach will not be moderate. He is far more conservative than Ms. Hutchison, who herself challenged incumbent governor Rick Perry for the GOP nomination in 2010, casting herself as a “moderate” alternative. Can the Senate-and the people of Texas-afford to have a blatant radical where a pragmatic moderate once was?
2. Herb Kohl (D-WI)
One could almost say that Senator Kohl is a Democratic, Midwestern version of Mitt Romney. Before representing Wisconsin in the Senate, Mr. Kohl worked as the President of Kohl’s, well-known department store giant. Since 1989, when he joined the Senate, Mr. Kohl has accumulated various plumb Committee positions, including Appropriations, Judiciary, and Banking. Described by some as left-of-center, Kohl supports a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, but takes a more liberal stance on taxes and social issues. Overall, the Senator from Wisconsin is an important part of the moderate faction in the Senate. However, I cannot say the same of the Democratic nominee to replace him. Tammy Baldwin is a seven-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where she embodies liberal extremism. According to a 2011 survey conducted by the National Journal, Congresswoman Baldwin was ranked “Most Liberal Memeber of the House.” [For a complete list of ideological rankings, visit: http://www.nationaljournal.com/2010voteratings?person=B001230.] A Vice-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Ms. Baldwin also enoys the endorsement of radical former Senator Russ Feingold. Altogether, she is as radical a politician on the far-left as Mr. Cruz is on the far-right.
“The most significant form of pressures which discourage political courage…is the pressure of constituency, the interest groups, the organized letter writers, the economic blocs and even the average voter.” Then-Senator John F. Kennedy wrote those words in his Pulitzer-Prize winning work Profiles in Courage. If elected, Mr. Cruz and Ms. Baldwin will face those same pressures. Having made many radical promises to their respective bases, will these two Senate hopefuls be able to represent their entire states, and not just their supporters? The key to having a successful Senate in the future is understanding that different sides of the political spectrum doesn’t have to mean opposite sides. Mr. Cruz and Ms. Baldwin would do well to recognize that, because if there’s ever a time we needed more moderates in the Senate-it’s now.
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