Magazine article Insight on the News

Journalists Perpetuate the Lore of Liberal Republican Senators

Magazine article Insight on the News

Journalists Perpetuate the Lore of Liberal Republican Senators

Article excerpt

Reporters are adding to the endangered-species list a most adaptable creature, the moderate Republican senator. In the Age of Newt, the wave of liberal Senate retirements has turned journalists into a regular Sierra Club of preservationists, bemoaning the newly dominant wildlife poisoning Washington's political ecosystem.

Sometimes, this tendency emerges in subtle tones. As Washington Post reporter Helen Dewar reported on Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield's retirement on Dec. 2, "Many senators have attributed the large number of retirements to mounting partisanship and declining civility, combined with pressures of campaign fund-raising, a desire for new challenges and exhaustion."

Press worrying about partisanship and incivility began, curiously enough, with its own road kill, the resignation of Sen. Bob Packwood, also of Oregon. As Jerelyn Eddings wrote in U.S. News & World Report, "Packwood's forced resignation, however, leaves the institution he loves in shambles, with its approval ratings falling, many of its centrists deserting and a showdown over the budget and taxes looming:" On the next page, Steven Roberts concurred: "Sen. Bob Packwood's resignation is only one of the changes that could produce a sharply different Senate next year: more conservative, more partisan and even more polarized. Changes on the Republican side of the aisle could be just as critical, leaving fewer GOP moderates, more hard-line conservatives and a Senate where compromises are harder to reach."

The retirement of Republican Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas inspired the same song with slightly different lyrics from USA Today's Leslie Phillips: "With Congress divided sharply along partisan lines since a Republican rout in 1994, the middle is no longer a welcoming place. And as moderates take their leave from what many members of both parties say is a poisoned atmosphere, their replacements are likely to be strong partisans." Newsweek's self-appointed "Conventional Wisdom Watch" guru Jonathan Alter added another repetition: It's the broad-minded old-timers who are leaving. The radicals are going to stick around to make sure they've dynamited the place."

Isn't this curious? Reporters finally are acknowledging the ascent of conservatives in the Republican Party -- but only in order to thrash them as intolerant rogues. Listen to Cable News Network's Judy Woodruff on Inside Politics on Nov. 23: "Republican moderates may have reason to feel more threatened than turkeys on this Thanksgiving. …

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