Former GOP congressman describes life at aisle's edge

by Emily Goodell | 11/14/07 2:14am

Former Congressman Charles Bass \'74 discussed moderate Republicanism Tuesday in a forum at the Rockefeller Center.
by Sarah Laeuchli / The Dartmouth

Orderly, moderate government is the best thing for America, said former congressman Charlie Bass '74 in a talk at the Rockefeller Center on Tuesday. Bass spoke on the topic of "the role of the moderate Republican in today's political environment."

Bass served as the congressman for New Hampshire's second district from 1994 to 2006 and currently serves as president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a caucus of moderate Republicans whose members include Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif.

"People who want successful government want orderly government," Bass said. He said that in the current political environment, it has been the politics of the extremes.

"It doesn't create stability in public policy," he said.

One reason for this extreme form of politics, Bass said, is the lack of strong, moderate leadership in Congress.

"Congress is not a body that has in its history been dominated by strong leaders," Bass said. "Congress is based upon the tradition of seniority."

These senior congressional members, he said, often come from congressional districts that have been engineered to ensure that the same party is elected year after year.

"With modern technology and demographics," Bass said, "it is possible to create districts that will guarantee a certain person's election forever." Bass advocated reorganizing districts so that they are based solely on the "one man, one vote" doctrine, not on "social engineering, financial engineering, or anything else."

Being a moderate Republican has not always been easy for Bass.

"People like to give money to controversial causes," he said, citing pro-life movements and as examples of how controversial issues get more attention on both extremes of the political spectrum.

"I'm trying to get contributors for moderate causes," Bass said, "but it doesn't really generate much excitement."

The Republicans held a majority when Bass was in Congress, and Bass expressed disappointment that the Republicans did not fully take advantage of having the majority to make a difference there.

"We wanted to change America," he said, but after winning the majority all the Republican leadership cared about was protecting that majority.

Bass was also frustrated with Republican leadership for failing to fight earmarks, clauses in legislation that benefit specific regions.

"I'm for earmarks, but I'm not for earmarks that no one knows about and that don't help anybody," he said.

Bass said that not all Republicans have learned their lesson after losing their congressional majority in 2006. He added that the best way for Republicans to regain a majority in Congress is to become more moderate.

"Swing districts are generally moderate districts, so we need to move to the center," he said. "If we're going to be in a leadership position again, this is where it needs to begin."

One issue very important to Bass is the environment, and he hoped that Republicans would move toward endorsing environmentally-friendly policies.

"The word conservative's basic root is 'conserve.' Conservatives ought to be for conservation," Bass said. "If we are going to survive in the long term, we have to diversify our energy sources and now is the time to worry about these things."

Because of his position in the Republican Main Street Partnership, Bass has not personally endorsed a Republican presidential candidate. However, Bass said that he is pro-choice and believes that the social questions, such as gay marriage and abortion, should not be left up to the federal government.

"The only candidate anywhere near these positions is Rudy Guiliani," Bass said, "So you can draw your own conclusions."

Although he was disappointed at losing his bid for reelection in 2006, Bass said that he is enjoying life after Congress.

"I get to do a little bit of politics and a little bit of business and a little bit of science and I like all three," he said.