Charlie Cook, the long term political observer and election handicapper, produced an insightful commentary in today's National Journal, the kind of left-of center publication that folks like me are fond of (in contrast say, to screeching screeds like Mother Jones or self-serving whiner fests like The Nation). Cook writes that gatherings like CPAC might make media headlines, but don't represent where large numbers of Republicans are at:
"But as the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference
became increasingly exotic, and began to represent an increasingly
rarefied species of the conservative breed, the rhetoric correspondingly
took on a flavor that would no longer be used in front of a “normal”
Republican audience. And its value has diminished."
The problem is hardly confined to the Republicans. As Cook observes:
"Of course, all of this is true to a certain extent for Democrats as
well. I don’t believe the Democratic Leadership Council is active any
longer, either. This council was a highly constructive group of moderate
and pro-business Democrats, headed by the irrepressible Al From, and it
used to be a major political force."
The absence of a forum for moderates on either side to gather means that true believers control the argument:
"... the extremes in both parties inevitably have more energy and
passion than the more moderate factions. At various times, strong
personalities (such as From’s within the DLC) and highly organized and
well-funded entities have tried to advance the ball closer to the
ideological area inhabited by swing voters. Yet each party is still
stuck in their red zones, between the goal line of extremism and the
20-yard line of hard-core ideology."
And this state of affairs turns off voters in the middle:
"It seems increasingly clear that many moderate voters simply don’t view
issues and candidates through an ideological lens. They stand behind the
plate like a baseball umpire, deciding whether each proposal or
candidate makes sense to them, whether they believe that proposal or
candidate would be good for them. These voters—remember they constitute
about 41 percent of the electorate—react negatively, and may actually
recoil, when they hear overheated rhetoric from either side."
So if you like this state of affairs, rejoice. It's likely to continue for a while. It's pretty clear however, that most Americans don't.