A blog on the Web site of the New York Times reflected upon The End of a Kansas Tradition: Moderation.
It’s always hard to put one’s finger on exactly what causes bodies of people to “flock” in particular directions. Nebraska, where I live, voted for FDR in 1932 and 1936, but in 1940 it voted Republican, and has, I think, in every election save 1964 (and Omaha’s district, for Obama in 2008). Kansas looks to have followed the same pattern, turning Republican in 1940, going for Johnson in 1964, and voting Republican for the presidency in all other elections.
In some ways the two states—Kansas and Nebraska—are similar, at least at the level of national elections. Nebraska has a tradition, to be broken this November, of sending relatively centrist Democrats to the Senate (Jim Exon, Bob Kerrey, and Ben Nelson). On the other hand, Nebraska’s unicameral makes comparisons at the statehouse level a little more dicey. Both states exhibit on odd phenomenon where conservatism and “ruralism” are positively correlated, and yet the rural economies depend so heavily upon federal support of agriculture, which is surely a more liberal notion, at least classically.
All of this would lead me to say that the “move to the right” is really the artifact of the decline of the center and the movement of both parties to what, in our country, passes for the extremes. It’s the difference between a rod and a dumbbell of equal masses. The polarity is a matter of distribution. In a nation with a small, undecided center and clusters at the poles, I’d argue that the “correct” candidates for any state are those representing the pole closer to the state’s behaviors. So, in the case of Kansas, given its performance in presidential politics, Republicans are a closer fit, just as Deb Fischer, a Republican, is a better fit to Nebraska than Bob Kerrey, Democrat, at least in 2012’s contest for the state’s open Senate seat.
As far as Secretary Sebelius goes, history will have to judge the influence of her department’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the fissure this created by its perceived (as by those who believe it has been an) infringement upon the free exercise of religion among the nation’s Catholics and others of like mind. I believe this will end up in the Supreme Court as a test of whether the government can constitutionally define what constitutes the free exercise of religion. I believe her rules are an unconstitutional overreach and stand at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church, in which she is a member.
“Wackos” is a little strong. Ferment and innovation typically come from the margins and are co-opted by the middle. This process has a tendency to grind down the burrs and rough edges. The process works the same, regardless of the pole.