Requiem for a False Moderate

The aught decade of the 21st century may well be remembered as an era of political pseudomoderation.

They called themselves “moderates”. They promised that they would be “good Republicans” that we liberals could support without worry. They said that they were only Republicans because they believe in small government and fiscal responsibility. They seemed so nice.

And then they voted.

In New York State, Republican politicians have had a habit over the last few years of portraying themselves as somehow separated from the more radical elements of the Republican Party. They say that they’re responsible, and will listen to all sides. The unfortunate truth is that it’s a fraud. These so-called “moderates” are extreme red Republicans to the core. Able to put on a reasonable face when they’re making political speeches, they remove their masks when they take action, and march in lock step with the rest of the extremist Republican Party.

In 2006, New York voters finally saw through this facade.

A prime example of this dishonest breed of false moderate in New York State was Congressman Sherwood Boehlert. For years, Congressman Boehlert cultivated the image of a “good Republican”. When he appeared before mixed political audiences, Boehlert said all the right things. He promised to protect the environment. He pledges to protect civil liberties. He swore up and down that he would work to restrain the Republican government’s outrageous deficit spending. He told constituents that he’d demand that President Bush provide good reason before America goes to war.

But when the microphone was turned off, and the time came for Sherwood Boehlert to use the power of his political office, what did he do? Time after time, Congressman Boehlert broke his word.

Boehlert said that he’d protect the environment, but he gave his power to the Republican majority in Congress, a majority that time after time voted in favor of big polluters that pump poisons like mercury into our air, water, and food. Boehlert’s true record on the environment was a record of filthy doubletalk.

Boehlert promised fiscal responsibility. Yet, Boehlert went along with every budget that the Bush Administration offered – even as each new budget broke records for deficit spending. With Boehlert’s approval, the United States plunged deeper and deeper into debt, embracing the values of unrestrained credit card borrowing.

Before the invasion of Iraq, Sherwood Boehlert said that he would only vote to support Bush’s plans for war if President George W. Bush could offer solid evidence that a war was necessary. Yet, week after week went by, and still, Bush had no evidence of any significant Iraqi threat to the United States. Oh, Bush said that he had evidence, but also said that he had to keep that evidence secret from everybody – even members of Congress like Sherwood Boehlert. Boehlert then changed his mind, and said that he didn’t need to see any evidence. He said that he’d just take Bush’s word on the matter. Bush turned out to be lying – there never was any evidence. Still, Boehlert never could admit that he made a mistake. To the end, Sherwood Boehlert said that the war was a good idea.

So what about civil liberties? Well, Sherwood Boehlert talked a good talk, but when you look at his voting record, it seems that Congressman Boehlert voted against civil liberties at every opportunity. Let’s take H.R. 27 as an example. H.R. 27 contained a provision that would have made it legal for the United States government to fund groups that engage in discrimination against people who do not belong to a list of special preferred religions. This idea, promoted by the Bush Administration, would have allowed organizations given taxpayer money to fire employees who refuse to convert to the same religion as their bosses.

Someone with principles decided to offer an amendment to H.R. 27 that would have removed the authorization of religious discrimination from the bill. But what did Sherwood Boehlert do? He voted along with the most radical Republicans to kill the Religious Liberty Amendment. That’s right – when given the chance, Sherwood Boehlert voted against religious liberty.

Things turned even worse when, in the waning days of his career, after he had decided to retire, Sherwood Boehlert voted in favor of the infamous Military Commissions Act. The Military Commissions Act legalized torture, revoked habeas corpus, ended enforcement of the Geneva Conventions, gave legal amnesty to George W. Bush and other top officials for any war crimes they may have committed, and established within the American system of justice with a set of kangaroo courts that the President may use upon his whim, without judicial review. Sherwood Boehlert didn’t have to vote for the Military Commissions Act. He had nothing to lose by doing the right thing, but he chose to go along with the nationalist extremists in the Republican Party, and voted to approve it.

Every promise that Sherwood Boehlert made his constituents to be a moderate Republican turned out to be a load of bull. When he promised to protect the environment, Boehlert lied. When he promised to take care before voting for war, Boehlert lied. When he promised to demand fiscal responsibility, Boehlert lied. When he promised to protect civil liberties, Boehlert lied.

The truth is plain. Sherwood Boehlert was no moderate. Sherwood Boehlert was a radical, as extreme in his political policies as George W. Bush and the fundamentalist fringe of the Republican Party.

Sherwood Boehlert is now retired from the U.S. House of Representatives, but this story continues paralleled for every other so-called “moderate Republican” in Congress. They claim to be reasonable. They claim to be centrists. They put on a good show, but when it comes down to their actual votes, these false moderates prove to be as extreme as any other Republican politician.

These false moderates count on voters to listen to their promises but not to pay attention to their actions. America’s only hope is that voters are more intelligent than the Republican false moderates make us out to be.

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