Extreme Moderates

06Sep12

US Senator Scott Brown“Why are there no moderate Republicans?”

That’s the lament we hear with increasing frequency from some quarters as the fall election season heats up. Meanwhile, many of the same people who decry this supposed lack of moderation are working overtime to paint a couple of true moderates as “extreme.”

Last year, Congressional Quarterly ranked Scott Brown the second most bipartisan member of the US Senate. That means he voted with the opposition party more often than 48 other senators. CQ also noted that Brown was the most independent-voting member of the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation, all of whom, with the exception of Brown, are Democrats.

But none of this matters to Brown’s opposition, and it doesn’t keep them from trying to characterize him as “part of an extreme Republican agenda.”

Sen. Richard TiseiRichard Tisei spent the better part of three decades as a member and leader of the minority party in the Massachusetts Legislature. He accomplished a lot by being willing and able to work with members of the majority party. He must have gotten something worthwhile done, because the voters kept sending him back to Beacon Hill.

But to many who oppose him in his challenge to Congressman John Tierney, Richard Tisei is secretly part of some radical right wing agenda, or even (gasp!) a Tea Partier.

Apparently, being in the moderate wing of a mainstream American political party is now the very definition of extremism.

I guess we can only conclude that the Town of Wakefield, Massachusetts must be a hotbed of radical right-wing extremism, since both Tisei and Brown have roots in the town and have a history of winning the support of the majority of local voters.

Nowhere is this laughable effort to paint Brown and Tisei as “extreme” more evident than in online forums and especially in the Twitterverse.

On Twitter, I follow people of all political stripes – or at least I try to. One group (actually I suspect it’s one guy in his basement) calls itself “RightWingwatchMA” (@RWwatchMA). RWwatchMA is primarily obsessed with Scott Brown, although they occasionally go after Richard Tisei and Republicans in general.

The notion of Scott Brown and Richard Tisei as “right wing” is absurd enough, but that absurdity escapes those earnestly trying to protect us from those two “extremists.” Here’s a typical RWwatchMA tweet: “The Republican Party is so extreme, Scott Brown wouldn’t speak at the GOP convention for fear of losing his seat.”

Here’s another: “The Tea Party has purged moderate Republicans from office. What’s left of the Republican Party is radical no-nothings.”

If you paint true moderates like Brown and Tisei as radical extremists, it’s easy to create your own self-fulfilling prophecy of a party devoid of moderates.

Here’s another RWwatchMA tweet that strains credulity: “Scott Brown supports a ticket that would turn the clock back to the 1950s on women’s reproductive rights.”

RWwatchMA likes to spew its venom, but they don’t care for being questioned. They recently tweeted a link to an article that argued that average Americans only vote Republican because they’re “misinformed” (read: stupid). I retweeted their post with the hashtag “#condescending.” RWwatchMA immediately blocked me. So much for the free exchange of ideas. Diversity in all things except opinion.

“PeabodyforEWarren” (@PeabodyforEWarren) is another Twitter account devoted to painting Brown as extreme. But being based in the 6th Congressional District, they’re only too happy to take swipes at Richard Tisei too. (All Republicans look alike to them.)

In one recent tweet, they attempt to cast Tisei as a sort of secret agent of the radical right, referring to his “well-masked anti-government, trickle-down, Tea Party ideology.”

Everybody says they want independent-minded politicians, who care more about getting things done than party allegiance. But for some, it’s just lip service. To those folks, party loyalty is all that matters, even if it means spending 24 hours a day online casting authentic moderates like Scott Brown and Richard Tisei as part of some extreme right wing agenda.

Oh, and for the record, I’m not a Republican and never have been registered as a Republican. But I respect people who aren’t slaves to party or ideology, who listen and form their own opinions.

It’s not Tisei and Brown who are extreme. On the contrary, it’s those who fanatically try to paint these two moderate Republicans as something they aren’t who come off as disconnected from reality. They are the ones who are exactly the type of rigid ideologues that they pretend to be railing against.

[This column originally appeared in the September 6, 2012 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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