The Last of the New Age RINOs

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 17 2010 10:51 AM

The Last of the New Age RINOs

Benjy Sarlin reports from a panel of current and former congressional centrists, including retiring-but-not-by-choice Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) and Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah). This is the complaint from them that juts out.

Cable news and blogs ("the pseudo-press" as Castle put it) came under frequent fire from Democratic and Republican panelists alike, who blamed Fox and MSNBC for polarizing viewers with ideologically driven coverage. Edwards went after the press for filling the news hole with a glut of sound bites from outrageous political figures.

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"I bet Michele Bachmann and Alan Grayson have gotten more national TV coverage the last two years than the four of us combined in our nearly 80 years of service," [former Texas Democratic Rep. Chet] Edwards said. "No wonder our approval rating is at 11 percent. That's all it is the American people see."

This is a very beltway way of looking at it, isn't it? A few million people watch cable news. Around 100 million people vote in congressional elections. And centrists actually get a disproportionate amount of airtime on votes -- not on hot button issues, which is the stuff you see Bachmann et al booked to talk about -- because they're centrists and their votes are key to passing legislation. Blanche Lincoln and Olympia Snowe got far more media attention than, say, Maria Cantwell or Saxby Chambliss during the health care vote, because the votes of centrists were key to passing the legislation but the votes of reliable liberals and conservatives were just assumed. And the House is an even better example of how the media works -- there are conservative Republicans who will spend the rest of their careers having appeared on TV less than conservative Democrats whose votes were up for grabs on health care.

The reason these members would fret so much about comity and TV pyrotechnics, really, is that they see themselves as the last defenders of a bygone era of friendship and bipartisanship. For example, the first senator to call Ron Wyden after he announced that he was being treated for early stage prostate cancer was Bob Bennett.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.