Periodically, some misguided member of the mainstream media will breathlessly announce to a world that no longer cares (if it ever did) that he or she has FINALLY found what all of us, in the collective eyes of the mainstream media, definitely want and need in political office--a "moderate" Republican. Most recently, this quest was declared at a successful end by Frank Bruni of the New York Times, who authored this unbelievable puff-piece on my state's current accidental GOP Governor, Larry Hogan. Hogan, who stumbled into office thanks to a spectacularly inept campaign by his Democratic opponent, then-incumbent Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, has also benefited politically from a tough blow dealt him by fate: a cancer diagnosis that he has, thankfully, fought successfully.
Bruni's tribute to Hogan understandably shows respect for that fight. But it then attempts to use that fight as a jumping-off point to paying tribute to Hogan's allegedly "moderate" style of politics. It emphasizes statistics (poll numbers) and an avoidance of hot-button issues that have helped push the national Republican Party somewhere to the right of Ivan the Terrible. It overlooks the fact that neither Hogan nor his health struggles have fundamentally changed the basically blue disposition of Maryland's politics. He was not elected to impose Tea-Party policies on a state too sane to embrace them. He was elected along with a state legislature that added Democrats to its ranks. It isn't "moderate" to avoid hot-button issues under those circumstances. It's Politics 101: the art of survival in a world where you know you don't really belong.
And, if moderation is to be found in policies or personal tendencies, Hogan is anything but a "moderate." Bruni's article glosses over his dispute with Democrats on education spending, as if it was merely a tussle over numbers. It is, in fact, a tussle over Hogan's willingness to use money that the General Assembly has formally appropriated for that purpose, as well as his attempts to steer that money toward favored constituencies, whether needed or not.
There is nothing "moderate" about taking one of government's most fundamental responsibilities, education, and turning it into a patronage program. It's old-fashioned, brass-knuckled, machine-style politics. The fact that it's being done with a smile, as well as a Korean wife and an African-American governor, doesn't change its basic nature. Hogan isn't a "moderate" Republican; he's a mentee of Chris Christie, another Republican governor touted as a "moderate" because he governs a blue state, but one whose style of governing. Perhaps Hogan has not blocked any bridges, but that doesn't diminish the bullying treatment he has given an issue that should be as above politics as any other.
Oh, wait. He has in fact blocked a bridge. This brings up something even worse than Hogan's abuse of education: his treatment of the city of Baltimore, in the wake of last spring's riots. Rather than offering a middle-of-the-road approach that attempted to bridge the political, economic and social gaps between an African-American metropolis and its lily-white suburbs, Hogan took an axe to a project that would quite literally have built such a bridge: the Red Line transit project that would have connected some of Baltimore's most troubled neighborhoods with suburbs to the west and east. Make no mistake: this was not only a calculated punishment of city government, but also a response to white fear of black "criminals," in counties that supported Hogan in a major way. The NAACP and the ACLU aren't fooled, and neither should the rest of us be.
So, as it turns out, the media search for a "moderate" Republican must go on. But why does it need to exist in the first place? What is "moderate" politics, really? Is moderation just a question of giving each side 50% of what it wants? Or, in a true marketplace of ideas, does it mean that both sides agree that one side might have some good ideas about some things, while the other side has better ideas about other things? I'd like to believe it's the latter; after all, 50% of a bad idea is still bad--period.
And why must the "moderate" be a Republican? Why not a moderate Democrat? Regardless of how you define the concept of moderation in politics, it seems to me that there are more "moderates" in the Democratic Party than there are in the GOP, the latter now being focused not on running for office, but running off a right-wing cliff. Is this just an artifact of the mainstream media's desire to not fit the "liberal press" stereotype? I would hope not; it's never a good idea to be defined by your fears.
In any case, don't look for moderation from Larry Hogan. He doesn't mind being seen that way, as long as it allows him to govern in a very different way. Trust me, Mr. Bruni: if you look a bit beyond the poll numbers, you'll start to see a lot of buyer's remorse. Come 2018, I guarantee that you and everyone else will see a lot more.