So, by Jim Leach's formulation, as we slice the electorate ever more finely in party primaries, we get down to about one-sixth of the total population making the big and basic decision about who goes on to a general election. In Idaho, winning a GOP primary is, in most places, the election and its often decided by a tiny fraction - the most partisan fraction - of the electorate. The recent Democratic primary in Idaho featured the smallest percentage of participation in many years.
Under this basic political arithmetic, no wonder most Republicans are tacking to the right and Democrats to the left. If they look and act like moderates - moderates like Jim Leach during his years in Congress - they get, in the vernacular of modern politics, "primaried." And, just like that, the middle of American politics has ceased to exist.
A Republican like Bob Bennett in Utah or a Democrat like Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas plays Russian roulette if they dare to work across the aisle. One of the great charges against Bennett, a three-term senator, was that he worked with Ted Kennedy and dared to supported the bi-partisan Wall Street bailout that, by the way, occurred on the watch of a GOP president.
Leach quoted - perhaps not altogether in context, but the words do ring - the great Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, "things fall apart; the center cannot hold" where the "best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
Our fractured politics stand to get worse, I fear, because self preservation in the human and political animal is such a powerful force. It takes a remarkable man or woman to try to appeal beyond the fringes of either party. The center is a dangerous place now in politics, but it has always been where real things get done.
Politics 101 today equals friction and faction. The middle not only hasn't held, it has disappeared.