09 November 2009

Who is a Republican?

In the aftermath of the debacle in New York's 23rd Congressional District, Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava has given an angry, defensive interview to Michael Smerconish in which she defends her right to call herself a Republican and challenges movement conservatives' right to dictate what Republicans should believe. She defines herself as conservative on economic and foreign-policy issues and insists that a preference for individual liberty allows her to define her stands on abortion, gay rights, etc. as conservative. Her argument is that an intolerant faction of cultural or religious conservatives is trying to drive out people who are otherwise advocates of limited government and strong national defense who nevertheless resist dictation on moral issues by the Religious Right. Scozzafava is angry that the radio talkers and allied pundits have characterized her as in no way conservative when the actual difference between them and her comes down to issues which Scozzafava thinks should not be decisive. In addition, she denies the charge that she was nominated in an unrepresentative "smoke-filled room" process, explaining that "hundreds" of Republicans had a chance to her views along with those of Doug Hoffman and six other aspirants before she was selected by the county committee chiefs. She also takes a parting kick at Hoffman, claiming that he, like she, promised during the selection promise to support the party's choice -- a promise on which he obviously reneged. Then again, she reneged eventually by ceasing to support herself and endorsing the Democratic nominee instead, so slurs on Hoffman's honor can only take her so far.

In any event, here is the ground of differentiation and the line where the battle for control of the New York GOP will be fought. Scozzafava's sympathizers have the evidence of the final vote in NY23 to argue that a religious-right Republican party cannot win in this state. They also have the evidence of their own action in the final weekend of the campaign to prove that they will not tolerate a religious-right takeover in their territory. The other side seems to say that you can't be a real Republican (i.e. their kind of conservative) unless you sign up for the culture war and all its battles. In a better place there should be no cause for fighting except at the polls; in that place there'd be a Scozzafava party and a Hoffman party -- both hawkish on foreign policy and otherwise fiscally conservative, but defining themselves in opposition to each other on cultural issues. But we live in the American Bipolarchy, so each faction insists that it must control the Republican party, that the GOP rightfully stands for its particular ideological package or else it stands for nothing. Hoffman's friends can't just concede the GOP to the Scozzafavists and focus on building the Conservative party because they crave Republican fundraising power and they can't shake their sense of entitlement to it. Nor are the Scozzafavists more likely, should the worm turn, to renounce a tainted GOP and form a secular-humanist conservative party, because they share the same sense of entitlement, the sense that the Republican party has an inherent nature that makes it rightfully theirs. This is all just another way of saying that the parties of the Bipolarchy have become constituent elements of government just like the congressional districts they contend over. The Republican and Democratic parties are seats of power for which political factions contend. The fact of their power distorts the political landscape so that nearly all the factions that exist battle in order to leave the undiscerning voter with only two choices every November rather than competing on a level of equality in the general elections. We won't be rid of the Bipolarchy until politicians feel confident enough in their core beliefs and their connections to the people that they'd consider the primary process a waste of time and resources. The challenge for us is to figure out how to boost their confidence.


Anonymous said...

Frankly, I doubt a religious-right based "conservative" party would be capable of garnering the support it would take to reach the fund-raising level of the Republican or Democrat parties. About the only thing they would accomplish is losing maybe half their voters. It's as I have said all along, conservatism is a losing proposition because it will not compromise, they will not share power and they are regressive, rather than progressive. They are like dinosaurs and hopefully they will go extinct within the next few generations.

Samuel Wilson said...

Doug Hoffman benefited from a lot of fundraising around the country, as his Democratic opponent was eager to inform people. He got 45% of the vote in the 23rd District. That might be taken as proof that a consistently conservative party could do quite well at both the polls and at the fundraisers, unless you want to say that the situation in that district was so weird that Hoffman's good showing can be dismissed as a fluke.

There are conservatives who do believe in compromise, and there are ideological reactionaries who better fit your dinosaur description. Anyone who wants to build a broad coalition for reform might do well to learn to tell them apart.