01 November 2009

Endgame in the 23rd District

Dierdre Scozzafava, the controversial Republican nominee to fill a GOP vacancy in New York's 23rd Congressional district, has "suspended" her campaign, effectively dropping out of the race. More dramatically yet, she has now endorsed the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens, over Conservative challenger Doug Hoffman. "Movement" conservatives who otherwise adhere to the Republicans across the country have rallied to Hoffman to protest the local party's appointment of Scozzafava to run in lieu of a primary. Hoffman himself accepted the Conservative nod to protest the alleged fact that Scozzafava was too liberal to be a Republican. Scozzafava now asserts that Hoffman is too conservative to represent his district. The question now becomes whether "mainstream" Republicans will follow Scozzafava's recommendation. This begs the question of what a mainstream Republican is, at least in the 23rd District.

Those of us who encourage third-party formation are probably at least a little guilty of discounting the existence of "moderate" Republicans or Democrats. The fact that either party takes "moderate" positions relative to the demands of progressive or conservative grass-roots agitators tends to be taken as proof that the major parties don't really stand for anything but gaining power and raising money. The fact that a "moderate" Republican now endorses a Democrat over a Conservative may confirm that impression for many observers. At the same time, some third-party boosters long for a genuinely "moderate" party, believing that the major parties are too ideological or that they cynically publicize ideological differences. I'm probably guilty of contradicting myself over time, in that I'd like to see more ideologically distinct parties in the interest of broadening the national debate while distrusting ideology as a personal rule. My own ideal would be something along the lines of local people deliberating without preconceptions or preconditions to determine what their own interests and needs are each election cycle, crafting something like a platform based on consensus and offering their support at the polls to someone who'll promise to be governed by that platform. I'd like to think people capable of determining that certain circumstances might justify tax cuts while others might require tax hikes without ideology demanding that taxes never be raised or never be cut.

In any event, my own frustration with the American Bipolarchy sometimes blinds me to the fact that there are Republicans who aren't movement conservatives nor conservatives of any kind who have just as much right to mold the GOP in their image as their conservative rivals do. I bring this up because the storyline of the 23rd District election comes down, in many minds, to whether there's room in the Republican party for perceived or self-styled moderates. Anything other than a win for Scozzafava, which now can't happen, will be taken as an argument that the Republican party must be a conservative party, rather than the Conservative party being the conservative party. I just want to question any assumption anyone might have that the GOP is either an authentic voice of movement conservatism or a soulless pillar of the Bipolarchy, with no options in between. I oppose the Bipolarchy, but I believe there are places for both the Democratic and Republican parties in a post-Bipolarchy polity, only not necessarily as ideological parties. Their redemption does not depend on them becoming ideological. They could instead revert to the sort of ethnocultural formations that they were before the transitional period from the Great Depression to the Great Society, when they were identified more with the interests of certain allied groups of Americans rather than with anything but the vaguest sort of invocations of Jefferson or Lincoln. Interest group politics is more like what Madison envisioned when he predicted that the nation's size would prevent any single faction from dominating the government. Ideological factions would enliven the debate, but the persistence of interest-group politics that don't determine their interests according to ideology would ideally check ideology when it threatens to defy pragmatism and steer the nation on a blinkered course.

I still stand by my cynical opportunist recommendation to give the Conservative Party viability by letting them elect a Representative, but my hoped-for result is a perpetual rivalry between Conservatives and Republicans for the non-Democratic or non-liberal vote. If the 23rd District election results in an effective amalgamation of Republicans and Conservatives, there won't be any real change in the Bipolarchy. The Bipolarchy will persist unless it becomes permanently clear that Republicans and Conservatives stand for different things, and that requires us to recognize that the Republican party can stand for something besides conservatism that still deserves the respect of the rest of us.

1 comment:

d.eris said...

To me the most clear evidence of the fact that the major parties "do not stand for anything" is the fact that conservatives think the GOP is too moderate, while moderates think it is too conservative, while liberals/progressives argue that the Democratic Party is too conservative and moderates maintain that it is too liberal. In other words, no one is well-represented by the system as-is.

Another possibility for the future in NY's 23rd, specifically, is that the Republican and Conservative Parties marginalize the Democratic Party to the point that it becomes a third party in that district. If in another district in NY, the Green Party, for instance, were to successfully challenge a seat that has been Dem for as long as anyone remembers, the effect would be an undermining of the duopoly. The state's delegation would be multiparty even though contests in every district were still only two-party races.