Stupidly, Democrats have never pushed back against the idea that a hard-line deficit reduction hawk is a ‘moderate’, which I think might be what leads an astute political observer like Steve Benen to describe Senator (D-ND) Kent Conrad as a “moderate.” To me, a moderate is someone who attempts to synthesize and find the balance among several objectives that may contradict with each other: while I think limiting the stimulus package was stupid fiscal policy, arguably that’s a ‘moderate’ policy, in that there is an attempt to balance out different concerns (of course, if moderation becomes the modus operandi, then there’s a significant incentive to radicalize the terms of the debate in order to shift the ‘middle’*). Granted, some will view moderation as sensible, while others will belong to the Jim Hightower school (“Only dead armadillos and yellow stripes are found in the middle of the road”). But someone who has a single guiding principle above all else–let’s just take a purely hypothetical example of slavish devotion to deficit reduction–isn’t a moderate.
Which brings me to Sen. Conrad:
Conrad’s fixation on federal spending is legendary; it’s easy to imagine him waking in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, praying that those Medicare cost projections were only a nightmare….
At a July 16th Budget Committee hearing, he argued against expanding health care coverage if it raised the debt, emphasizing that “[w]ithout fundamental changes in the organization and delivery of care, expanding health insurance coverage will worsen the nation’s long-term budget outlook.”
Conrad worked early on to make the deficit the year’s top priority. One of the first supporters of Obama’s presidential candidacy, Conrad pushed the new administration to hold a summit on fiscal responsibility as one of his first official events, angering progressives who saw it as undermining an agenda that might need to rely on increasing the deficit in the short term.
His deficit concerns go way back. When a 38-year-old Conrad first ran for the Senate in 1986, he made a pledge that would define his career: If the federal deficit increased while he was in office, he wouldn’t run for reelection.
It was quintessential Conrad, telegraphing both his ambition and his (wildly misplaced) sense of what a freshman senator could accomplish in office. But when the red ink kept running, his response was equally telling. Instead of merely breaking his pledge, Conrad ran for the state’s other Senate seat — vacated by former Sen. Quentin Burdick, who had died in office. It wasn’t, after all, technically in violation of his promise. The deficit pledge only applied to the first post….
“It’s actually more philosophical than that,” said one senior aide about the connection between Conrad’s opposition to a public option and his contributions from the health insurance industry. “He sees skyrocketing deficits. He thinks the number one priority should be cutting deficits by not spending money.”
“For anyone who has survived a lecture with him in a private room, these are pretty deeply held beliefs,” said one senior Democratic aide who has survived his fair share.
As I’ve noted before, Conrad isn’t so fanatical when it comes to ag subsidies in his home state (without which, North Dakota would be an economic wasteland). Nonetheless, Conrad is not a ‘moderate’–he is a radical deficit hawk who is more than willing to harm progress on a core Democratic issue like healthcare.
That’s no moderate.
In Kent’s defense, when he gave up the seat Burdick was very much alive and not thought to be in bad health for a man of his age. He also managed to displace an entrenched Republican incumbent in 1986 who would likely still be in office today if Kent hadn’t run against him in 86. That being said, his recent antics have been costing him support in the state and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a primary challenger during the next election.
Right now we define conservatives as moderates and radical, batshit crazy wingnuts as conservatives. We need to bring this picture into better alignment.