31 March 2010

"Grassroots" Republicanism in New York State

In announcing the nomination of Chris Gibson as the Republican candidate for New York's 20th Congressional District -- the seat formerly held by Senator Gillibrand and currently by Scott Murphy -- Neil Kelleher told the media that the ex-soldier, fresh from a Haiti relief mission, secured the GOP line in a "grassroots" manner. That is, he visited with the county committee members who actually choose the party's candidate. Congressional candidates are not chosen through primaries unless no candidate gets a majority of these committee persons. That's how the debacle of Dede Scozzafava happened; she secured a majority of bosses despite eventual proof that she was not favored by the rank and file. That's why dissidents who rejected Scozzafava as a "liberal" had to take their campaign to the Conservative line; once a majority decides, the rank and file have no right to contest the nominee. From a perspective favorable to third-parties we might applaud this rule, since it seems likely to result in more disgruntled candidates bolting and declaring independent candidacies. But it does seem unfair to the rank and file to be denied a decisive voice in choosing their candidate. There's no saying which of three prospects, including Gibson, they would have chosen. My only direct evidence of grass-roots opinion came when I saw an anti-Obama demonstration on Wolf Road last month. The protesters held signs for Patrick Ziegler, who was probably the closest this district had to a Tea Party candidate. While his website identifies Ziegler as "Independent. Conservative," he has knuckled under and endorsed Gibson. He may have no real objections to the nominee, who appears set to campaign on a conventional Republican platform of tax cuts, reduced regulation, etc., but Ziegler's deference to the GOP bosses comes too quickly, too instinctively, for a professedly independent conservative. Independence among conservatives is a meaningless slogan unless they're willing to declare their independence from the Republican party. I'm not saying that Ziegler should have bolted, or that Gibson is unworthy of his support -- I'm definitely not the one to judge in such a matter -- but it seems to me that a real independent would have thought about it a little more than he has. Treat his endorsement accordingly.


Anonymous said...

Over the past few months, I've developed a mistrust for the "grass roots" movements in this country. My problem is this.
A working, healthy democracy demands three things from it's members: education, participation, follow through.

People have to be educated in order to understand what the issues are, how they affect us as individuals and as a social unit. They have to be able to follow the "arguments" used by candidates so they have a clue on which candidates really represents their view. They need to have an understanding of how the government and the democratic process works.

They need to participate - not just by voting, but by getting involved socially in the process. Investigating the candidates for themselves - look at their record, their personal lives, history, character. Don't simply rely on some "talking head" to tell them who to support.

There needs to be follow through - people need to pay attention to what their representative is doing after they get elected. Is he or she trying to keep any of those campaign promises? Do they merit another term in office at our expense?

If these three elements are missing, we get what we have - two vague "parties" who tell us who we get to vote for, rather than a true government "of the people, for the people, by the people."

Samuel Wilson said...

Someone from the "grass roots" would of course claim that he has educated himself, is participating, and intends to follow through. How do you determine the validity or sincerity of his claim?