Political pundits of a certain stripe have been lamenting the disappearance of Republican moderates for years. It's time now to lament the disappearance of moderate Democrats.
Last month, Sen. Joseph Lieberman announced he wouldn't seek re-election. He lost the Democratic primary in Connecticut in 2006 because of his support of the Iraq war, but won in November as an independent.
The irony was that the 2000 Democratic nominee for vice president was re-elected largely by Republicans who spurned their party's little-known nominee. But Republicans seem likely to field a stronger candidate in 2012, leaving Lieberman little room in the middle.
Then last week, Rep. Jane Harman announced she would resign soon to become head of Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center. Harman, who voted for the Iraq war resolution and supported robust foreign and defense policies, was conspicuously passed over by Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee when Democrats won control of the House in 2006.
Harman's Los Angeles beach-town seat is heavily Democratic, and as one of the richest members of Congress she could self-finance her campaigns. But she won her 2010 Democratic primary over a left-wing opponent by 59 percent to 41 percent -- a narrow majority for longtime incumbents who usually win by two to one.
Harman and Lieberman were both Democrats in the JFK and FDR mold -- liberal on most domestic issues (Lieberman almost single-handedly pushed through repeal of the ban on open gays in the military in December) and supporters of the use of American military power to expand freedom and democracy in the world. But there doesn't seem to be much room for them in the Democratic Party today.
Last week also saw the announcement that the Democratic Leadership Council would close its doors, after the retirement of its longtime president, Al From, in 2009. From, an aide to Louisiana Rep. Gillis Long, founded the DLC in 1985 in the wake of Ronald Reagan's two victories, in which he won the electoral vote by 1,014 to 62.
The DLC championed policies, notably welfare reform, intended not to expand government but to make it work better. It gave early national prominence to a young governor of Arkansas, of whom From used to say, "Clinton really gets it."
After the 1988 election, Democratic leaders, fundraisers and voters were convinced that old-time liberals could not win and were ready to take a chance on Clinton. And aside from the debacle of Hillarycare, he delivered. Democrats lost five of six presidential elections between 1968 and 1988. They have carried the popular vote in four of the five held since.