05 November 2009

Lessons From the 23rd District?

While I cynically rooted for Doug Hoffman to win the special election for the 23rd Congressional District in New York, thinking it might be a blow against the American Bipolarchy, I didn't really look forward to the prospect of another movement conservative in Congress. But I couldn't deny the significance of the grass-roots uprising his defiance of the local Republican party generated. However, the Albany Times Union could. The paper leads its editorial page today with a retrospective commentary on the special election. While the editorial writer agrees with me that this election, out of all those in the country, was a referendum on movement conservatism rather than President Obama, the writer seems to misunderstand what was going on to give it that identity. Something just doesn't look right about the T-U version of events:

For all the money that national conservative groups poured into the race for the 23rd Congressional District, their candidate lost. That is the undeniable bottom line. There is a costly lesson here for interlopers who think New Yorkers can be so swayed by a barrage of advertising that they will forget what they stand for, and what they want and don't want in a representative.

Doesn't that look like the writer is saying that the Hoffman candidacy was somehow an invention of "national conservative groups" and "interlopers?" But my impression was that the national attention and money didn't start flowing until the grass-roots insurgency got their attention, and that Hoffman was gaining strength before his discovery by the national movement over the last month of the campaign.

The writer goes so far as to claim that Dede Scozzafava, the failed Republican nominee, and actually an appointee of county bosses rather than a winner of a proper primary, "might have pulled this one out for the GOP" if not for Conservative interference. This seems to ignore the fact that a majority of Republicans had repudiated Scozzafava, fairly or not, by the time she suspended her campaign and endorsed the Democratic candidate. At the same time, the editorialist offers the election as proof that movement ideologues can never win in New York. While I'm happy to note that they haven't, I wouldn't be objective if I didn't admit that Hoffman's performance shows that they could well win in some parts of the state.

"If the 23rd Congressional District race proves anything," the editorial concludes, "it's that politicians can't force their values on voters." This is a strange statement. We live in a democratic republic, after all, so the statement should be a truism. Yet I can't help inferring that, in the writer's mind, a Hoffman victory would have meant that politicians had somehow forced their values on voters. Would that have meant that people had been forced to vote for him? Meanwhile, did Bill Owens force his values on voters? Given that some liberal commentators considered him less liberal than Scozzafava, I'm not actually sure of what Owens's values are. Or does the writer mean that Hoffman's values might have been forced on voters through the dread vehicle of paid political advertising? If so, I must note that Owens didn't exactly take a vow of poverty this fall, and didn't exactly turn away support from "interlopers." In the end, the only coherent thought I could take away from this editorial was that the writer believed that Doug Hoffman represented some kind of alien ideology unsuited to the soil of northern New York. But like it or not, 45% of the vote testifies otherwise. That's not an endorsement of Hoffman or his movement. That's just the facts.


Anonymous said...

Yes, but at the same time, would Hoffman have received that 45% if not for the outside money pouring in? I'm guessing that he still would have had a decent showing, but a lower percentage...maybe as low as 30%-40%.

Samuel Wilson said...

It depends. Hoffman's campaign gained strength in stages. He had gone above 20% in some polls by the time his story went national, and I think that money didn't boost him as much as publicity once the radio talkers and other conservative celebrities adopted his cause. In any event, Owens got outside money as well, so you can ask the same question about the winner. Leave money out of the equation and the fact remains that there were still people in the district who identify themselves as Republicans but not as movement conservatives. They're the ones who stuck with Scozzafava as a protest vote, or else they sided with Owens in the end. Whether Conservatism was indigenous or alien to the region, a majority of voters rejected it.

d.eris said...

One of the most ironic things about this whole election is that, one imagines, the local GOP bosses likely chose Scozzavafa because she was moderate-to-liberal, maybe assuming there would be a liberal swing in the district following Obama's win there in 2008. The interesting thing about the CP strategy is that they could simply have endorsed Owens as the most conservative choice in the race. He was, after all, the Democrats' second choice. From what I remember reading a few months back, there was also some amount of anger at Hoffman's candidacy among Conservative Party rank and file, arguing that he wasn't an actual Conservative, but rather just a Republican angry that he'd been passed over for the nomination. There might have been some amount of anti-Hoffman Conservative Party animus as well.