Politicians who believe the least should determine the most in Washington, D.C. That's the chattering class's mindless conceit, apparent in its explosion of gaudy tributes to "moderates" this week. No sooner had the Senate's college of cardinals struck their deal on judges than the David Broders were breathlessly expressing their fervent hope that moderates would form the new dominant "shaping force" in American politics. These are men and women of "national stature," "elders," sage guardians of "national consensus," went the tributes.
The assumption right off the bat in most of these articles is that moderate pols embody the wishes of the majority. Wrong. They are a tiresomely conceited minority to which the elite media assign an outrageously disproportionate influence. Together the McCains and the media do not obstruct extremism, as they kid themselves, but produce a new form of extremism -- a tyranny of the moderates under which the majority's legitimate will is thwarted in the name of this or that phony elitist objection.
Under the tyranny of the moderates, mealy-mouthed media darlings get to determine which judges are "inside the mainstream" even as they stand outside the mainstream themselves. How many elections would the Democrats have to lose (and de facto Democrats in the Republican Party, whose media-accorded authority comes from losing Republican primaries and thwarting the mainstream of their party) before their magisterial powers determining who and what qualifies as "mainstream" are questioned?
"Mainstream" is the elite's euphemism for what the majority should think, not what they actually do think. Notice that the anti-democratic streak grows more and more pronounced in the American elite. Last year this anti-democratic streak was seen in its gravitation toward non-American, utterly unaccountable institutions like the United Nations and the World Court as useful vehicles with which to overpower American majority views. The less support the elite could find democratically, the more they turned for support to undemocratic international institutions. This year their anti-democratic streak is seen in the glorification of a Senate with aristocratic pretensions, claims the ahistorical and happily uncultured elite press usually casts in other contexts as reactionary and disturbing.
Obstructing the people suddenly counts amongst the elite as chic and progressive. On Wednesday the New York Times editorialized with approval that while "the idea of letting the majority rule is at the heart of much in American democracy, it has little to do with the Senate..." The Times lauded this week's moderate conclave agreement and praised, in a dramatic warming to musty aristocratic ideas, the "14 senators who signed on, including Robert Byrd, 87, and John Warner, 78, whose weekend seminar on Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Paper No. 66 must have been one for the record books." Imagine the one-man, one-vote Times getting as enthused about a seminar on the Founding Fathers' support for literacy tests before voting.
The subtext of the media bouquets to the moderates is a contempt for democracy: a handful of wise senators, using old privileges, are beating back a dangerous, primitive, bible-wielding majority, suggest the stories.
Howard Fineman of Newsweek, writing excitedly of a coming moderate upheaval in our politics, noted: "That notion -- that you could change long-standing rules by a mere majority vote -- was viewed by Senate traditionalists, old and young, as more than unacceptable. It was outrageous to the likes of Republican Sen. John Warner, an old-fashioned Virginia Cavalier who thinks of the Senate as a Platonic redoubt of republicanism of the most ancient sense. He was the key to this deal. Something else about him: a hunt-country patrician of the old school, Warner never has been a fan of (or a favorite of) Rev. Jerry Falwell and Dr. Pat Robertson, Virginia's pulpit-based powers. He's not their man."
Of course, lost in the media's sudden romanticizing of the Senate's aristocratic procedures is any sense of their original purpose: to make Senators more principled, not less, more conservative (in the sense of maintaining high moral and intellectual standards essential to the preservation of American civilization), not more fashionably muddled and moderate. The Senate moderates with aristocratic pride in their powers of deliberation lack any high and sturdy principles that would justify them. They are beneath, not above, the American people, advancing an elitist ideology hostile to the founding principles of the country. They'd filibuster the Founding Fathers (who were far more conservative than any of today's stalled nominees) if they came before them.
"We have kept it. We have kept the republic," said Robert Byrd, indulging himself in yet another moment of comically overblown rhetoric. Had he studied the Federalist Papers with a little more comprehension, he'd know that moderates can tyrannize too.