Republicans owe defecting Senator James Jeffords a hearty handshake and deep gratitude for exposing the awfulness of their party's conservatives - at least according to the media's twisted take on next week's scheduled Senate switchover. Journalists insist that Jeffords' jump proves that conservative policies are political poison, and are advising Republican leaders to follow the guidance of the party's most liberal members.
"Is this a chance for the party to look at itself and perhaps move more to the center, become more moderate, in the wake of his defection?" NBC's Matt Lauer advocated to White House counselor Karen Hughes on Friday's Today.
"The message from Jeffords is not a new one," NPR's Nina Totenberg lectured on Saturday's Inside Washington roundtable: "Republicans, when they govern from the right and castigate their moderate members, do so at their peril." Totenberg then compared conservatives to wife-beaters: "The modern Republican Party and its moderate wing are in a sort of, to use the psychobabble of the era, in an abusive relationship." For viewers who failed to grasp her insult, she explained: "The conservatives are the abusers."
The notion that conservatives are a bunch of thugs was also featured in print coverage. "Moderates don't survive in the Republican Party without a thick skin. Over the years, the proud, laconic Jeffords had endured countless arm twistings, cold shoulders and petty slights for taking stands at odds with his party," upbraided Time's Douglass Waller in the magazine's June 4 edition. "By last year, the hostility had begun to wear him down."
No one explained why, if conservatives were really so mean, the liberal Jeffords had been elevated above more conservative colleagues to the chairmanship of the Labor and Human Resources Committee. And, even as the media condemned the Gingrich revolution of the 1990s, the "maverick" and "independent" Jeffords kept his Republican label; the party didn't become ideologically asphyxiating until its majority had been thinned to a bare 50 seats.
Never mind the details; to the networks, Jeffords is a hero. "For every Vermonter who looks at Jim Jeffords and sees a traitor," gushed CBS's Jim Axelrod on Thursday's Evening News, "there seem to be ten who see a 'Profile in Courage.' In Vermont, a state with an independent streak that can blaze as boldly as its leaves, Jim Jeffords appears to be a snug fit from the barber shops on Main Street...to the dairy farms in the rolling green hills."
"He is a man of principle," Time's Margaret Carlson insisted on CNN's Capital Gang this weekend. "He is a man who is a rare breed now, a moderate Republican and he gave word to what some of us have not been able to, which is that Bush campaigned as a moderate, but he's been governing as an arch-conservative."
Reporters showed no skepticism of the Senator's liberal swipes: "Suggesting the Republican Party no longer stands for tolerance and moderation, Jeffords today says he leaves with a heavy heart," NBC's Lisa Myers reported on Thursday's Nightly News, adding, "Moderates worry the party is off track... Maverick John McCain blames GOP leaders, says 'It's well past time for the Republican Party to grow up.'"
The media's assertion that conservatism is the ideology of political losers is not supported by the facts. In the 20 years before Ronald Reagan became the Republicans' standard-bearer in 1980, the GOP seemed unlikely to ever lead Congress, averaging just 169 House seats and 38 Senate seats. In the two decades since Reagan supplied the party with a purpose and a conservative vision, Republicans' congressional ranks have swelled to an average of 192 House members and 50 Senators, with Jim Jeffords and the liberal media grumbling each and every step of the way. - Rich Noyes