One of the most prevalent (and wrong-headed) interpretations of the recent elections is that both parties are dumping their respectable members in exchange for wild-eyed radicals. As Cokie Roberts explained it on ABC's This Week (5/23/10):
COKIE ROBERTS: I'm not sure, Donna, that the voters this year care about somebody being out of the mainstream. I mean, the people they are choosing in these primaries are definitely people who are out of the mainstream, whether it's in Utah or whether it's in — Arkansas is still out, up for grabs, but it looks like it's going toward the more liberal candidate in Arkansas.
JAKE TAPPER: That's the Bill Halter versus Blanche Lincoln race.
COKIE ROBERTS: Right. I mean, it is in state after state, it is not the mainstream candidate the voters are interested in.
Bill Halter is outside the mainstream? That might come as a surprise to, well, almost everyone. Ari Berman wrote a cover story for the Nation about Halter, pointing out that he's a deficit hawk opposed to cap-and-trade who is a little slippery on the Employee Free Choice Act.
As Berman put it post-election, in debunking this idea that both parties are catering to extremists:
Halter and Sestak are trying to pull Lincoln and Specter in line with the Democratic mainstream, which neither represents. Lincoln and Specter are enjoying Dem establishment support despite being ideologically to the right of mainstream Dem positions.
Their challengers are fueled by an energetic grassroots effort to let the Dem establishment know this isn't acceptable. The Tea Party brigade, by contrast, is pulling candidates to the right of mainstream Republicanism. Therein lies the difference.
The notion that moderate Democrats challenging conservative Democrats represents a threat to the mainstream says a lot about where Cokie Roberts is coming from–and reminds us that the media's general rule for Democrats is to move to the right.