- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2005

As the resident centrist on these pages, it might be supposed that I was pleased by the action of the 14 senators who made the arrangement to preserve the filiuster. This little “insurrection” in the exclusive club of the Senate is now being hailed or condemned as a putsch of the “moderates” in both parties.

Not quite so fast. First of all, the term centrist is often tossed about these days with the implied meaning that it is the same as “moderate.”

It is further implied that a centrist, so defined, is always to be in the middle. I don’t think so. A centrist is not defined by measuring halfway from the left and halfway to the right.

As I see it, a centrist is someone who sees the issues from where the center of the country is. That is why presidential elections are always fought in the political center.

I don’t mean that the center is a mere popularity contest, or can be measured by any opinion poll. This country has almost always been a centrist nation. Politicians of the far left and the far right have not ever succeeded at the highest levels. Sometimes the political center is liberal. Sometimes it is conservative.

In the issue of the filibuster, the political center was consistent with the fundamental notion that the people’s business, with some explicit exceptions, is conducted by majority rule. The existence of the filibuster, a peculiar Senate rule, was allowed to persist because it was rarely employed.

Very recently, however, the filibuster rule was, by magical fiat, expanded to mean that 41 senators could hold up anything or anyone they opposed. The true centrist position on the filibuster, given the inflexible position of its supporters, was to abolish it.

What really happened the other day was that 14 senators, only half of whom are truly centrists, fashioned a “deal.” I suspect the life of this “deal” will be measured in hours or days or weeks. In reality, the administration has received exactly what it wanted, a majority vote on its judicial nominees. A promise not to filibuster except in “extraoridinary circumstances” has the weight of a feather. The moment another filibuster begins, the deal is off.

Yes, there are seven Republican senators who signed on to the deal. But is there anyone with even a superficial knowledge of political reality who believes that these men and women would continually resist the program of their own president so recently re-elected in a decisive manner?

Perhaps if that president were proposing solutions far off the political center, these senators could, and even should, oppose him. The propaganda of the Democrats has compulsively characterized President Bush in this way, but the country did not agree in 2004.

On at least one issue I think the president is off center. That is the issue of stem-cell research. The president’s position is consistent with his pro-life position, and satisfies the expectations of a good part of his political base. I do not fault him for that.

But most Americans think his position is an impediment to necessary and critical scientific research. Congress is on the verge of passing legislation that the president almost certainly will veto. The proper response would be to override his veto.

Bipartisanship is often a good thing in enacting the people’s business. It will take bipartisanship to reform Social Security and health care. Some education reform has passed, and it took bipartisanship. Most importantly, American foreign policy requires bipartisanship to be positively and fully realized.

Now that the 2004 election is over, Sen. Joseph Biden, the senior Democratic figure on foreign policy, is resuming the bipartisanship he and Sen. Richard Lugar, the Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, so ably articulated before 2004.

Sometimes, however, it takes partisanship to make political reform. And persistence. The president’s ideas about Social Security have been continually written off since he first expressed them. Private accounts, we are told, will not ever happen.

But the president is a persistent man. He has made the unspeakable the most talked-about issue in the country. He has identified the political center on this and many other issues, and it is premature to predict he will not succeed.

On paper, the filibuster still exists. In reality, it no longer can block legislation and nominees who require a majority vote. The “centrists” gave a face-saving exit to the Democrats who wanted to paralyze the Senate, but the political center will no longer permit them to do so.

The president will need to continue to seek compromise if he wishes to enact his ambitious program, and the Democrats will have to face the fact that the voters of America have returned the Republicans to control of the House and the Senate for a decade, and the White House for two terms. Those are the indisputable and vital facts.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for the Preludium News Service.

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