Saxby Chambliss, the Moderate We Never Knew

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 25 2013 6:24 PM

Saxby Chambliss, the Moderate We Never Knew

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WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence ranking member Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) gets on the Senate subway as he leaves after a hearing on the Benghazi attack November 16, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Ben Jacobs asks why the departure of Sen. Saxby Chambliss is portrayed as a loss for Senate moderates. In part, it actually is a loss for the Senate's moderates

The Republican Party has moved further to the right in the past few years. After all, one of Chambliss’s potential opponents in a primary, Congressman Paul Broun, famously called evolution a lie “straight from the pits of hell.” It’s hard to run to the right of that.

Rhetorically, yes. But what non-conservative votes did Chambliss ever cast? Bush tax cuts? He was an aye. Iraq War? Aye. DOMA? Aye. Gay marriage constitutional amendment? Aye. Ryan budget, which was never going to pass in the Senate? Aye. Partial birth abortion ban? Aye. Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal? Nay. Assault weapons ban? Nay. And so on.

All Chambliss did to irritate conservatives was 1) providing a vote for a compromise when said compromise would pass without him, and 2) talking to Democrats about maybe passing a deficit deal that might have raised taxes. He didn't stick a dagger in Robert Bork, as Arlen Specter did; he didn't work out a bipartisan health care bill that was mined for Obamacare, as Bob Bennett did. The role of "unacceptable compromiser" is being defined downward.

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