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Who are you calling extreme, Dems?

Incumbent Democrats are desperate — increasingly aware the public’s taste for their brand of change has waned. Some, in generally conservative districts and states, are reaching for the mantle of the moderate; others, like those in reliably Democratic areas, have not yet begun backsliding on the president on the issues of health care reform and spending.

But all — no matter how comfortable their lead in polls and campaign funds — have gone to great lengths to portray their GOP challengers as wildly out of the mainstream: We’re bad, but they’re downright crazy.

In an editorial for the Washington Times, I examine Tuesday’s Democratic primaries in New York and Washington, D.C., which saw the ouster of Mayor Adrian Fenty and the renomination of Rep. Charlie Rangel, and offer some thoughts as to who is the real party of extremists:

The Republican Party has been so captured by its more conservative, if at times unreasonably radical, elements that it ousted Tuesday a mayor whose pragmatism earned him national praise and renominated a 20-term legislator for Congress whose ethics probes had become a symbol of corruption and a clarion call for term limits.

With all the speculation that the GOP had been torn asunder by the Tea Party movement in its bid to refashion the party in its own image, one might be inclined to believe, wrongly, that anecdote. One splashy headline after the next has fomented the expectation that the lunatics had stormed the hospital, with loony policies abounding: Social Security to be phased out; the Department of Education to dissolve; and the 14th Amendment to be repealed.

But it was not the Republican Party that caved Tuesday night to deep-pocketed labor unions or willfully overlooked a career of stunning ethics violations in its intraparty contests in Washington and New York City. That’s the kind of change in which President Obama’s Democratic Party believes – though if generic ballot polls are an accurate indicator of the national mood, it’s not the change for which Americans signed up in 2008.

But the most appropriate rejoinder to Democratic criticism that the GOP has gone off the rails is not to observe that polling indicates supposedly extreme Republican candidates are leading or in contention with incumbent Democrats. Rather, it is to offer this simple reminder: You renominated Charlie Rangel.

No reasonable party would endorse the candidacy of a man whose previous misdeeds include the leasing of several rent-stabilized Harlem apartments while using one as a base of operations for a previous re-election effort, failing to disclose upward of $75,000 in income from beachfront Dominican Republic property, securing tax benefits for a company whose chief executive he was courting as a potential donor to his private foundation, and the undertaking of two corporate-financed tropical junkets in 2007 and 2008.

No reasonable party would oust a mayor whose aggressive school-reform campaign had won national accolades in a school district where, at the outset of his reforms, only 9 percent of ninth-graders were expected to earn a college degree in nine years.

And yet the Democratic Party did both to appease its radical elements. So much for the unelectable, extremist argument.

You might say that Democratic operatives living in glass, rent-controlled Harlem apartments would do well not to throw stones. Read the article in its entirety at the Washington Times.

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