Vermont may make China look good. An acquaintance regards Vermont as so strange that - going a step beyond those who abjure anything bearing a China label - he won't buy goods made in a state famous for green mountains, maple syrup and a simpleton socialism right out of the lofts of Greenwich Village.
In appraising Sen. James Jeffords' move out of the Republican Party, one needs to keep in mind a number of things - perhaps first the liberalism of the region where he dwells. Vermont rarely has been known for its conservatism. Its Republican Senators - Flanders, Prouty, Aiken, Stafford and Jeffords - hardly earned reputations for their conservative consciences; its incumbent Democratic senator, Patrick Leahy, is the Senate's leftist paradigm. New England stands today as the nation's largest leftist bastion: In November it voted 56-37 for Al Gore and gave 62 percent of its combined House vote to Democrats.
Note, too, that the press evaluating the Jeffords move is a press heavily sharing New England's dominant ideology. The New York Times sets the tone for the nation's mainline press. The Times blames Trent Lott (because he's a dunce) and George Bush (because he's out of touch and conservative and two-faced for having campaigned as a touchy-feely type) for the Jeffords defection. The Times says the Republicans got what was coming to them. The Times warns the Republicans to move away from extremism if they don't want to lose other distinguished senators - and by implication if they even want to dream of winning another election for anything.
Opines the Times' Richard Berke on page 1:
"Many influential Democrats and Republicans agree that Jeffords' decision to become an independent is a striking example of the perils of President Bush's strategy of governing from the right." Berke even summons the venerable Walter Mondale on whether "Bush should be more solicitous of the moderate wing of his party" - Mondale offering this quote: "What I thought he would do when he became president was to do what he said during the campaign: to lead from the middle. Echoes the equally ideologized Washington Post, in an editorial: The Jeffords defection raises anew the question of what kind of home this party offers its uncomfortable moderates."
Such quotes imply these assumptions: (a) that the Republican Party need not worry about its more natural conservatives (because conservatism equals extremism), (b) that Bush is not the moderate he led everybody to believe he was (in fact, he campaigned as the conservative he clearly is), and (c) that Jeffords et al. define moderation, which is inherently A Good Thing - as how could it not be if those regarding themselves as moderates stipulate it to be so?
The fatuous falsity of such assumptions should be obvious to anyone not glomming Britney Spears. The vast majority of Republicans (in the Senate, oh about 80 percent) are conservatives. Any suggestion of conservatism as extremism is a contrivance of the suggester, as is any equating of liberalism with moderation.
The fact is, leftists and liberals - if they don't detest what they are and what they believe - hate the words that describe them. Maybe it's their guilt. Or maybe it's their secret recognition that the vast majority of the populace dissents from the essence of their creed. Who calls himself a liberal these days? What politician campaigns as a liberal unless he (or she) is running in Vermont, Massachusetts or New York?
The establishment press - lopsidedly left wing - understands all this, of course. So the establishment press lexicon, regarding conservatism as extremism, redefines liberalism as moderation, so any moderate (so called) operates in a privileged sanctuary wherein every act is showered with glory, laud and honor. And in such a world, every moderate wins all the prissy praisy good-guy adjectives: progressive, middle-of-the-road, mainstream, centrist, independent, bipartisan, principled (of course), and even, sometimes, maverick.
Run your own test. You'll see.
Deviationism carries a certain impish, back-of-the-classroom panache. It connotes party rigidity, individual ahead of the collectivity, a refusal at last to conform to an inflexible and dictatorial party line. Deviation is the seeming essence of anti-ideology - thinking for oneself instead of conforming to Groupthink.
But the Jeffords tergiversation is less principle than power. Jeffords is an individual who evidently found Ronald Reagan more palatable than George W. Bush - Jeffords renouncing his party not when leaving mattered little but when he could do the most damage to a conservative administration and maximize his own power in a new Senate regime. Had he waited until a death (of say Strom Thurmond), he would have had no chips with which to bargain.
Jeffords has inflicted maximum damage on the prospects for administration (Republican) success on energy, the environment, judicial nominations and an anti-missile shield. On such issues, the Republican game may be over - so partisanly deft have the Democrats proven themselves at thwarting what they will not accept. The plus is perhaps President Bush's down the road, campaigning for a cooperative Congress that will not stymie his every important move. We shall now see how bipartisan, centrist and moderate the very liberal Senate Democrats can be.
Yet on a larger scale, the Jeffords switch may be confirming the Republican game has peaked. Here, as abroad, Republican/conservative free-market economics has won in a walk. The Republican record on social issues is less impressive, and public sentiment may be running the other way - and with it Republican electoral numbers. Bush barely won. The Republicans have lost seats in Congress the last several times out. And the establishment press is out there rewriting the dictionary and grinding its axes for the leftism it calls moderation.
The major message in the Jeffords reverse: Without better ball handling and running, and far better blocking and tackling, the Republicans just may not be able to move the ball beyond midfield.