GOP: an incredible shrinking center Cohen's retirement: Moderate faction also losing Kassebaum, Hatfield and lots of clout.


FAST REVERSE to 1964: It is an election year, a Great Society year, and on the floor of the U.S. Senate the most important civil rights legislation in history is pending. After months of anguished debate, two key roll calls are taken -- one to choke off a Southern filibuster, the other to enact a bill outlawing discrimination in public facilities and accommodations.

Result: triumph for civil rights as Senate Republicans make the difference, voting 27 to 6 to end the filibuster and pass the law. Percentagewise, this is a larger margin than the 44-23 Democratic vote in the affirmative. It was destined to be a last high water mark for moderate, centrist, progressive Republicanism.

There were some outstanding GOP liberals -- yes, liberals -- who made the difference: Thomas Kuchel of California, John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky, Clifford Case of New Jersey, Jacob Javits of New York, George Aiken of Vermont and Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania. With the help of minority leader Everett Dirksen, they overwhelmed the half-dozen Republican naysayers led by Barry Goldwater of Arizona.

Yet Senator Goldwater went on to win the Republican presidential nomination and the party's moderate wing has been in decline ever since. Never more than right now. With the surprise announcement by William Cohen of Maine that he will join a record number of retirees, the incredible shrinking center of his party will hit historic lows. Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, Mark Hatfield of Oregon and (maverick) Alan Simpson of Wyoming had started the exodus. Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon had already been booted out. So who is left?

By our count, there will be only four genuine moderate-liberals in the Kuchel-Case-Javits-Scott tradition in next year's Senate, barring unexpected newcomers. They are James Jeffords of Vermont, John Chafee of Rhode Island, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, all from the nation's northeast quadrant. The GOP becomes more Southern and Western with every election.

Perhaps with help from such moderate-conservatives as Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Christopher Bond of Missouri, the lonesome foursome will still make a difference. But the loss of a respected, knowledgeable guy like Bill Cohen can hardly be


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